Charlie Stark, owner of the Whistle Stop in Ferguson, readily admits where the inspiration for his restaurant's thirteen-scoop, frozen-yogurt challenge comes from.
"Man v. Food. I won't lie," he says.
Jeff Mullersman, owner and chef at de.lish Cheesecake Bakery & Cafe, also found inspiration after seeing a food-challenge show on television.
"I just loved watching people taking on the different challenges," says Mullersman of his fiery-hot Inferno Sandwich Challenge. "It's just fun to watch people sweat."
It's not as if this is an entirely new trend -- Crown Candy Kitchen started its 5 Malt Challenge all the way back in 1913. And there is nothing more prototypically American than our celebration of eating, whether it's our ridiculously large portions, professional competitive-eating circuits or conquering unfathomable levels of spice, people can't get enough.
Lance Ervin, owner of Mama Campisi's Restaurant, was inspired after he saw someone try to vanquish the largest burger he'd ever seen at a restaurant in Memphis. "I thought I should try to incorporate the idea, but for an Italian restaurant," he says. Thus, Mama's Pasta Challenge was born.
For Ervin, the goal of hosting a challenge was to "create something that would be talked about," and he notes that people travel from all over with the specific goal of defeating Mama's Pasta. Simply put, food challenges are fun and attract customers.
"We don't really make money on the actual challenge," says Stark. "It's just that people always bring friends, and no one wants to sit there and watch their friend eat ice cream, so they have to order something too."
There's another reason why eating challenges succeed: suckers like me. While researching local food challenges, I came to believe that given the right circumstances, my immense appetite could probably handle whatever portions or spice level was presented to me, no problem. The cocky, overly competitive voice inside my head kept insisting that I go out there and dominate.
I decided to attempt six local food challenges over five weeks -- having done no preparation or training -- believing fully that my exploits would prove successful and I'd soon receive widespread admiration. Here's what actually happened.
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