When it comes to Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, words such as “champion” and “driven” come to mind. The 30-year-old California native has one passion: eating. Ranked the number one competitive eater in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Chestnut is a trencherman of extraordinary caliber.
For many years, Japanese competitive eater Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi held the world record for hot dog consumption. Yet the king was dethroned in 2007 when the then-upstart Chestnut beat his record, ending the six-year reign at the legendary Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Chestnut has won every year since, besting his original record on three different occasions.
Chestnut started his career two years prior to his first Nathan’s win, when one of his younger brothers entered Joey into a lobster-eating contest in Reno, Nevada. Though Jaws walked away from the lobster competition without even placing, his appetite had been thoroughly whetted. That same year, Chestnut took down veteran eater Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas in the Waffle House World Waffle-Eating Championship and highly ranked Rich LeFevre at a deep-fried asparagus-eating competition. He received the coveted Rookie of the Year title, further proof of his rising status among the world’s best competitive eaters.
In his second year, Joey earned himself records for grilled cheese and jalapeno poppers, both of which still stand today. He went on to set records for matzoh balls, Twinkies, tamales, chicken wings, apple pie and a mile-long list of other delicacies and dishes. And the roller coaster ride has yet to slow down.
How does this deity of food consumption prepare for competition? By fasting and then stretching his stomach with water, milk and protein supplements, Chestnut can control his stomach’s capacity come competition time. He’s also trained himself to endure certain challenges, such as swallowing the bones in chicken wings during a competition. Chestnut will drink lukewarm water while competing to help relax his muscles. Yet when not competing, he works to count calories and exercise regularly.
In any given year, Chestnut will travel the world participating in more than 20 eating competitions. So far this year, Jaws has already won a chili-eating contest, eating 2.125 gallons of the beefy stew on February 8 in Orlando, Florida.
While he’ll eat almost anything (except oysters) in competition, the Nathan’s Hot Dog-Eating Contest each July remains his favorite. His goal is to top 70 hot dogs, which seems to be within reach. He has the stamina, and he has the work ethic. And fans of competitve eating are rooting for him.