For most, National Doughnut Day goes unnoticed or is celebrated with one, or maybe two, glazed morning or midday treats.
For Joey Chestnut, the day Friday meant inhaling 257 powdered Hostess Donettes in six minutes, which won him $4,000 at a Major League Eating event Friday at the Shops at Liberty Place.
“It was easier than I anticipated, and one of the way-tastier events that I’ve done,” said Chestnut, 34, a full-time competitive eater with a baker’s dozen of years of tournaments under his belt.
Three-time Wing Bowl champ Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., participates in events nearly every weekend. He’s broken records with foods ranging from fish tacos to asparagus and cheesesteaks, and travels to destinations including Australia and China, and all across the country, to chow down for cash.
Sporting a perfectly shaped beard of powder and a not-so-perfect showing of crumbs and water on his T-shirt, Chestnut recalled that the hardest part of the Donettes event came at the start.
“The first bite is always the most challenging for me,” Chestnut said. “But once I get past the nerves, I can get into a rhythm. The powder actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”
Chestnut said he was able to spill water into his mouth between fistfuls of compacted Donettes, helping to counteract the dryness that comes with eating more than 40 mini powdered doughnuts per minute.
Among the other nine competitors, tactics included adding milk and coffee, wearing plastic gloves, and using huffing techniques to speed up swallowing. Donette dipping in water was not permitted.
More than Chestnut went home with money on Friday, with a total of $8,000 distributed among the top seven doughnut-downers. The second-place contender, Carmen Cincotti, was just 13 Donettes short of tying with Chestnut, polishing off 244 to win $2,000.
“I feel really good, so I wish it was longer,” said Cincotti, from New Jersey. “I could’ve gone for a full 10 minutes. Doughnuts are good, much better than some of the stronger foods I’ve dealt with.”
Rene Rovtar, superintendent of schools in Montville, N.J., took last place with 24 Donettes consumed. Weighing in at just over 100 pounds and the only female participant at Friday’s table, Rovtar is not new to the circuit. Past events have featured pork rolls and hot dogs among the array of challenges she takes on for fun.
As the audience counted down the final 10 seconds of Friday’s event, watching Chestnut with his eyes closed and facial grimacing made it hard to imagine competitive eating as fun. The 6-foot-tall, 215-pound man had to stomach nearly 16,000 calories in six minutes.
Yet Chestnut is quick to say that his new career is better than his former job as a construction manager.
“My job today is to celebrate National Doughnut Day. That’s a good deal,” said Chestnut, noting that the doughnuts were settling surprisingly well. “I get to break records and make people happy, and food always brings people together.”
Around 50 people were in the rotunda of Liberty Place, with a couple dozen spectators leaning on the railing on the second floor. Many hurried over to Chestnut and Cincotti post-competition to pose for photos.
“It’s ridiculous. I don’t know how else you could describe this,” said Bob Manning, 27, who popped out of his office at Liberty Place to catch the action. “I watch Joey every Fourth of July in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, so it was awesome to see him here.”
Chestnut hopes to return to the city for the 2019 Wing Bowl, a competition he hasn’t participated in for 10 years.
“I won three, and then they told me I couldn’t come back,” said Chestnut, who saod the organizers wanted to see a local competitor win. “We’re now back in talks, though, and I hope to be out there next year. I love Philadelphia, so it’d be great to get back.”
If he does compete, odds go down for the others.
“He’s like Tom Brady — Chestnut is the greatest of all time when it comes to competitive eating,” said Richard Shea, president of Major League Eating. “It’s beautiful to watch him and the way that he works.”
Chestnut’s next challenge comes less than 48 hours after stomaching his last Donette. On Sunday he’ll take on ice cream sandwiches in an event in San Diego. His goal: Eat more than 26 in another six-minute round of chowing down.