Minnesotans finally have a chance to put all those weeknight suppers with Grandma to the test. Major League Eating (MLE) — the group that puts on the annual July 4th Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island — is coming to Minnesota this summer, and hot dish is the name of the game.
MLE is hosting the first-ever Fortune Bay World Wild Rice Hotdish Eating Championship June 22 at Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower, Minn. While the roster of eaters will mostly be big names from MLE’s ranks, Minnesotans are invited to enter for a chance to eat their way to a $2,500 grand prize — and set a world record.
It’ll be the biggest hot dish party since last Tuesday when you threw a can of soup and frozen Tater Tots into a Nordic Ware pan.
“For the first time in recorded human history, the people of Minnesota will be able to answer the question that keeps us up at night: How much hot dish can someone actually eat?” said Sam Barclay, an eating-contest host and MLE’s director of operations.
Contestants will have 8 minutes to work their way through pre-weighed portions. The person who leaves behind the most empty containers wins. A total of $5,000 in prize money will be distributed among the top six eaters.
Registration opens April 16, so it’s still unknown whether Joey Chestnut, 11-time hot dog champ, will make his way to Lake Vermilion. Anyone can enter, although seats at the table are limited.
“There’s an enormous difference,” Barclay said, between the amount of food a pro-competitive eater can swallow and what a regular person consumes at a big Thanksgiving dinner.
“I would imagine there will be more than one contestant who believes themselves to be the one true hot dish consumer on the planet,” said Barclay, who is based in New York and no stranger to hyperbole.
“We invite that person to sign up and should they be chosen, they will make their way to Tower, and there they will have their moment of doubt at the table, their moment of reckoning at the table, their moment of seeing what they are truly made of. They may well win; they may come in last. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth standing up and being acknowledged as someone who was willing to try and put their heart and soul on the line.
“And by that, I mean put a lot of hot dish in their mouth.”
In other words, this is going to be epic.
MLE hosts another event at Fortune Bay in the fall: a fry bread taco-eating contest now in its third year (Nov. 2).
Because the casino is located in wild-rice country, that’s the starch that will be featured in these particular casseroles, although Barclay can’t say whether tots will also be in the mix. “We’re trying to showcase the quality of that regional product,” he said.
While they may not like to show it, Minnesotans have been known to get competitive about hot dish before. Former Sen. Al Franken used to host a cook-off at the U.S. Capitol for Minnesota’s congressional delegation. A northeast Minneapolis neighborhood has been throwing a hot dish cooking contest called Hotdish Revolution for 15 years (next one is April 14). High-end chefs tackled the church basement staple this year during the Winter Carnival.
But a cook-off and an eat-off are two different things.
Barclay has eaten hot dish before in a “civilian and recreational capacity,” but never in “sanctioned competition,” he said. He has some thoughts on our state’s favorite potluck food, and let’s just say, a hypercompetitive hot dog contest this is not.
“From a technical standpoint, it’ll be very easy food for the eaters, even those who have never had hot dish before,” he said.
“It’s not like a chicken wing contest, where you have the age-old challenge of separating meat from bone.”
Welcome to Minnesota, competitive eaters, where the people are nice and the food is mushy.