For New York City-based Crazy Legs Conti, eating competitions are more than a way to show off his skills. “The beautiful thing about Major League Eating (MLE) events is that you can come up and shake a competitor’s hand. It might be stained with chili or covered with cannoli, but it’s important to know that competitors are regular people. I feel proud of the fact, because people like to talk food,” Conti said.

During a recent phone interview with Tailgate Fan, Conti, who said the origins of his name “will stay a mystery,” discussed how he has seen food competitions change and evolve. (Note: Portions of the interview were condensed.)

Tailgate Fan: You last competed at the world-famous Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2012 where you ate 20 hot dogs. Do you plan to return?

Crazy Legs Conti: I hope so. I have done 10 out of 12 years, and you have to qualify every year. I have a qualifier coming up this March. It looks like I stand a good chance. I have incentives to push myself to achieve victory. The true motivating factor is to arrive at the final table. (Note: Conti qualified for Nathan’s main event at an Atlanta qualifier in April.)

TGF: How is the sport of competitive eating evolving? Records are shattering left-and-right.

CLC: Gone are the days where people would compete against themselves, but what has replaced it is the rivalry. […] Women are competing too and are at the tops of their games. These petite ladies are crushing me. A production company should follow them. In hot dogs, women are separate, which is great for me. I think there’s a lot that is exciting on the competitive eating trail. New contests, new foods. That is what attracts me.

TGF: Got any tips for anyone who wants to try a food competition of their own?

CLC: I do. I would avoid restaurant challenges. That’s not a great indicator of your skill on the competitive eating skill. That’s not what American dining should be. It should be one of pleasure. People see that as an easy entry way. […] For the most part, go with a contest with an EMT in place. Safety is paramount. We’ve been fortunate we haven’t had any injuries. The league [takes] cares to make sure safety is upheld, the scales are correct.

Read more about competitive eating.

TGF: Is there any food you won’t eat in a competition?

CLC: No, anything Major League Eating puts on the table, I’ll eat.

TGF: Do you prepare for competitions?

CLC: I do a lot of technique training and do research into the food that will be served at the sponsors’ table. You need to know what kind of chili is being served. Is it chunky or meaty? If you change your strategy, you won’t do well in the contest. If we have a new food contest, there are technique foods. That’s enjoyable. As an example, there was a pierogi contest in Chicago. Pierogies can differ depending on size, shape and consistency. If I returned, I would get a plate and find the best technique. Some foods can be difficult to eat in contests. Each food brings its own challenges, and some foods you only eat in competition. Some foods, after a contest you tend to crave more, which is an odd scenario.

TGF: What’s next for you?

CLC: All the focus is on hot dog season. I am focused on my qualifier. If I win that, there’s a lot of enjoyment. Everything is on the focus of making the journey on July fourth. It’s like Burning Man. You have to be a participant and not a spectator. When you go through it, it’s life-changing.

Megan Horst-Hatch is a runner, reader, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in “-er.” She is also the president of Megan Writes, LLC. Her work can be found at


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