Sat., April 11
Rouses World Championship Crawfish Eating Contest
Museum's Old U.S. Mint
Major League Eating President Richard Shea says there are two types of com- petitive eating: capacity and skill. One requires enough stomach room, and the other requires enough dexterity and familiarity with the food to get it out of your way so you can move onto the next mouthful.
The annual Rouses World Championship Crawfish Eating Contest is mostly skill, Shea says. That might be one reason Adrian Morgan, a competitive eater from New Orleans, finally ousted longtime champion (and out-of-towner) Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, a professional competitive eater.
"Sonya is ranked No. 5 in the world," Shea says. "She's the second-ranked female eater in the world, she's a multiple Nathan's Hot Dog female champ, she's a multiple Acme Oyster world champ and she's a four-time Rouses Market crawfish eating champ. But she lost to Morgan, a seventh-ranked eater.
"If you look at their rankings, Sonya is a couple of spots higher than Adrian, and that's because she probably has greater capacity. But Adrian knocked her off because he understands the crawfish."
Morgan, a pastry chef at Domenica, agrees. "I've grown up eating them my whole life," he says. "I'm around them all the time. Every crawfish season I have crawfish three or four times. So over the years I've just become accustomed to peeling them. There's definitely an advantage."
Morgan says his process is simple, though he doesn't get to enjoy the crawfish very much while he's eating them, since he's mostly focused on swallowing fast enough to put more tails in his mouth. "I concentrated on hand speed and moving from crawfish to crawfish," he says. "Just getting in a good rhythm. And just pinch and pull, as fast as I could."
There's a Crawfish Cup trophy and a $2,000 cash prize divided between the top places in the competition, and a winner is determined by the weight of his tray. Morgan says last year he ate about three and half pounds of crawfish meat. That's between 16 and 17 pounds, shell-on. The competition lasts 10 minutes.
About 10 people compete for the title each year, and most of them have tra- veled across the country to enjoy New Orleans' regional cuisine, both competitively and recreationally.
"The top-ranked competitive eater is somebody who is an epicurean and a foodie and somebody who has a great affection for a variety of foods," Shea says. "The eaters have often told me that it's a great luxury. They get to go across the country and eat these regional foods, whether it's oysters or crawfish in New Orleans. That's what the city is known for."
The annual competition always takes place at the French Quarter Festival and acts as a kind of season opener for competitive eating across the coun- try. Major League Eating also sponsors the Acme Oyster Eating World Champ-ionship in New Orleans, and Shea says Louisiana seafood is near and dear to the company's heart.
Morgan says he's always liked to compete. "I grew up playing sports my whole life, and I don't really have any sport to kind of fall back on right now," he says. "It's an outlet for that." He says he feels confident about his chances this year: "I think I have a good shot. Last year I won by a pretty good margin. She [Thomas] beat me three years before that, in a row. But I feel confident that I can win again."
As to whether the competition has turned him off crawfish, or whether he stops enjoying them after the 10 minutes are up, Morgan says no way: "Usually I eat, like, a few after, just to kind of enjoy them."
Shea says it's uncommon for com-petitors to lose a taste for what they're eating, even after such an large amount of it enters their bodies. "If you eat three pounds of crawfish meat, you may be done for the day for crawfish," he says, "but it doesn't mean a week later you are."