You’ve probably watched competitive eating challenges on television or caught a pie-eating contest or two at a local festival. But have you ever thought about what draws someone to competitive eating? For Valerie Bromann, a Chicago-based professional in digital marketing whose other hobbies include travel and photography, the road to competitive eating is one filled with learning and trying to find what works best in a challenge. Tailgate Fan talked to the professional competitive eater in a phone interview on what it’s like to be a newcomer to the sport.
Valerie Bromann: I started watching it a long time ago when I saw the Fourth of July contests. It was just a weird event that I loved to watch. In 2007, I think it was, I saw there was a jalapeño eating contest. A friend and I decided to go and I just became hooked on it. I have never been a sports fan, but this is something I could get behind and root.
Tailgate Fan: What was your first competition, and how did you do?
VB: For a few years, I just went around watching and photographing. I competed in 2011 in the world cupcake eating championship. I ate nine cupcakes in eight minutes. [Laughs] I wasn’t sick after eating the cupcakes, but that’s a lot of cupcakes.
TGF: How do you prepare for a competition?
VB: I am still trying to figure out what techniques work best for me. For one contest, I ate breakfast and had the competition a few hours later. You want to eat something in the morning, but not too much.
TGF: Do you research the food served in an upcoming competition?
VB: I have been trying to do some research. I listened too much to what other techniques people did. I didn’t figure out what I needed to do and worked best. This year, I’m trying to figure out more techniques that work for me instead of listening blindly to everyone else.
TGF: What are your goals for this year?
VB: I’d love to get back to Coney Island [at the World-Famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest]. Last year, I got in on a fluke and came in last place. At the time I thought I was OK with that, but afterwards, but I thought “I really want to be back here.”
TGF: You’ve traveled all over the country and the world for competitive eating contests. Have you done any restaurant challenges or contests closer to home?
VB: I haven’t.
TGF: Why not?
VB: I don’t know. I never really thought of doing them. The restaurants cost a lot if you don’t finish them.
TGF: What about spicy food contests?
VB: Hot food is really hard. Speed is what I need to work on, and hot challenges are really hard. You have to be good with spicy foods.
TGF: What are some foods you’d like to eat in a competition?
VB: I would do better with something like mashed potatoes. You don’t chew as much.
TGF: Competitive eating contestants have interesting names. There’s Joey “Jaws” Chestnut and Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas. Do you have a nickname for competitive eating?
VB: It’s “Valkyrie.” She is a woman of Norse mythology and is the woman who decides who lives and dies in battle. It’s a good name for going into a hot dog battle.
TGF: What do your friends think of your hobby?
VB: All my friends are really supportive, my family, everybody. I have some friends who came with me to New York City, too. Some people think it’s weird and don’t understand it, but I have some great people who are supportive of the weird things I get up to.