Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
Food maintains a nearly constant presence in the life of 34-year-old competitive eating champion Timothy Janus, known to his fans as Eater X. Ranked #3 in the world by Major League Eating, Janus spends many of his weekends on the road, competing in contests across the country and around the world. A seven-year veteran of the sport, Janus has competed in over 100 events, owns seven world records, and yet still looks pretty good in a pair of pants. At night, Janus is a waiter at a pizza shop in Manhattan's East Village. His life, he says, has been a very good adventure.
Wednesday, October 5
10:00am: I've woken up starving. These days I almost always wake up starving, but that wasn't always the case. I used to be a midnight snacker. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, eat a brownie, drink some soda and go back to bed. More than once, I took a brownie to bed with me, fell asleep before I finished it and then woke up with half a brownie clenched tightly in my fist. It looked like the grip from a motorcycle handlebar: shiny, black and almost perfectly molded to my hand. But I kept getting cavities, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. So I made some changes in my life. Among them: I don't eat anything in the middle of the night anymore unless I'm willing to brush my teeth before returning to bed.
12:30pm: Exercise is a big part of my life. I hit the gym at least five days a week. Today I fix a protein shake (MET-Rx) and eat a Clif Bar (Coconut Chocolate Chip) and a banana. Because I'm scared of getting cavities, I floss and brush my teeth. Did I mention that I use a prescription toothpaste? It costs $18 a tube! But you can't put a price on peace of mind.
4:33pm: I work nights at a place called Pizza Gruppo in Manhattan's East Village. I love working at Gruppo. I've worked there for seven years, which is an eternity in restaurant-time but not uncommon at Gruppo, because everyone who works at Gruppo loves working there and sticks around. Gruppo makes the thinnest yet crispiest pizzas I’ve ever encountered. The ratio of crust to sauce to cheese is one of a kind, and it makes for a pizza that truly pops with flavor.
5:00pm: There's a wonderful Mexican woman who sells homemade food out of a push cart in the East Village several days a week. She stops by Gruppo on schedule. Today I purchase two tamales, both chicken with salsa verde. They're a dollar each, and they're delicious. I'll eat them later tonight.
2:22am: It is bedtime, but I've got to coat my stomach with something before I go to sleep. I take ten deep pulls from the carton of milk in my fridge.
Thursday, October 6
12:53pm: I'm in the canned food aisle of the grocery store, scoping out the various kinds of chili. On Sunday, I'm competing in the Ben's Chili Bowl World Chili Eating Championship in Washington, D.C. I'm sure I could stand to practice a little bit, but I really don't want to. I love chili, just not the amount that I'll need to eat in order to make a practice meaningful. Screw this. I'll wing it on Sunday. I buy some more milk because I'm running low. I drink about 2.5 gallons a week, so I feel like I'm always buying milk, or anxious that I'll need to soon.
4:31pm: Eating the first six inches of a Subway Club on whole wheat that I picked up on my way back home from the gym. I'm a huge fan of the Subway Club with swiss cheese, spinach, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and spicy mustard. I’ll save the second half of it for after work or for tomorrow because -- again, I'm a little embarrassed -- I kind of like it when it sits in my fridge for a while.
4:46pm: Long chug from the milk carton.
12:22am: Greetings, Subway Club. You look even better than when I last saw you.
Friday, October 7
9:00am: Fridays are busy days for me. I work a double at Gruppo, so if I'm going to hit the gym, it's got to be early, and I hate morning work-outs. I skip abs, though, out of consideration for the Ben's Chili Bowl contest. We’re going to eat a lot of chili on Sunday, a couple of gallons I'm sure, and if my abs are going to have to stretch to accommodate all of that food, I don't want them to be sore from a bunch of dumb sit-ups.
5:03pm: I'm taking a break between shifts and digging into a pizza. I went for my old standby: hot Italian sausage, sweet red onions and button mushrooms. It's my favorite combination.
12:15am: Eating some sushi from Fu Sushi, which is two doors down from Gruppo. Fu makes some of the best sushi rolls I've ever had.
Saturday, October 8
11:11am: I try to focus on very simple carbohydrates the day before a contest because I imagine them burning off very cleanly in my body, like ethanol or natural gas. I don't like to eat meats if I have a contest the next day because I don't trust them to digest fully. My goal is to show up to a contest completely empty, with nothing in my stomach and nothing in my intestines. I want my abdominal cavity to be empty so that when I start putting food in my stomach, nothing impedes its expansion. If my intestines are full from a big meal I recently ate, I won't be able to utilize my full capacity, which is my biggest asset as a competitor and also one of the keys to a victory on Sunday Today I'm definitely eating cereal: Flax-Plus on the bottom, a little bit of milk, a fifteen minute wait, and then Life on the top, and a little more milk.
2:07pm: I used to get cavities so often that occasionally my dentist would fix one for free. I'm walking past my old haunt, Economy Candy, truly one of the great candy stores of the world. I used to spend thirty dollars a week at Economy Candy, but I haven't spent a nickel there this year. I am candy-free in 2011, and not even tempted to stop in. It's so nice not having cavities very often anymore. It makes life without candy entirely worth living.
2:44pm: Where, oh, where is my stopwatch? I can't find the one that I've been bringing to competitions for the last couple of years. I loved that little stopwatch because it was waterproof, which is important when you spill food all over it, and it had a really big display that I could very easily read with just a quick glance. I'll need one for Sunday's event. I'm at K-Mart now buying a new one.
4:09pm: This is my favorite hour to work out. I always feel good at 4:00. I skip abs again.
Sunday, October 9
5:15am: I'm catching a 7:00 AM bus to D.C., so I've woken up very early to pack a day bag.
6:20am: Almost out the door, but before I go, I chug a 32-ounce milk-based protein shake. The volume of the milk will give me the feeling of fullness, and because milk takes longer to process than water or soda does, that feeling will last longer. It will also give me energy, and I really like to feel strong and vigorous for a contest. Eating contests are very physical. If I limp into one lethargically, I won't be able to push myself as hard I'd like to.
11:03am: I arrive at Union Station a few minutes early, well rested. I slept most of the way. I consult a map, and then start wandering in the general direction of the contest venue, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th. I'm not entirely confident of where I'm going, but I don't have to be there until about 12:00, so I figure I've got an hour to spiral towards my destination.
11:40am: I've arrived. I almost always paint my face before each contest, but I need a mirror and about 40 minutes to do it. I don't have a mirror, and I've barely got 40 minutes, so I may have to eat clean-faced today. I've only eaten that way three times before.
12:35pm: Introductions begin. I take my place near the center of the stage, and wait for the final two contestants to be announced. World #1 Joey Chestnut is positioned to my left. He's favored to win, so it'll be nice to be able to keep a close eye on him throughout.
12:36pm: There is "full," and there is "professionally full," and I'm anticipating being professionally full in just a few minutes. I'm a little nervous because that's often not very fun.
12:47pm: Damn it. It's over. Six minutes, and I've finished in a tie for second. Maybe I should have practiced. Joey was quick today. He always is. And the chili was slow. I thought I would have moved a little faster. We didn't eat nearly as much as I was expecting us to eat. Joey ate two gallons. I ate a gallon and a half. I'm full, of course, but not in a way that's intolerable. Oh, well. I won $750 for the Tim Janus retirement fund. I'm very happy about that.
1:46pm: Several of the eaters, the emcee and I are hanging out a nearby bar called Harry's. No beer for me, just water. I'm thirsty, and neither the bubbles of the beer nor the taste of it appeal to me right now. Plus I don't even think I'd catch a buzz if I were to drink now anyway. There's too much food in my stomach for the alcohol to have a chance of being absorbed into my body. It would just sit there and mingle with the chili, which seems to be going nowhere.
5:30pm: Back on the bus. Back to New York. Again, I sleep.
10:04pm: I stop by Peter McManus Cafe, my favorite bar in all of the world, to grab a beer with Crazy Legs Conti, who also competed in today's contest. He's actually my roommate, but he took the train back, so we haven't yet had a chance to compare notes. I'm feeling better, so I order a Guinness. Just one though.
11:50pm: I'm heading to Australia in November for a shrimp wonton contest, and I couldn't be more excited. I'm taking an extra week for myself after the contest to do some exploring. I'm doing travel research right now, and it's funny: I haven't even been to Australia, and yet in my head I'm already planning my second trip there.
Monday, October 10
11:21am: I'm working myself hard this fall, hitting a lot of contests. Saturday will mark my third in four weeks, and again I'm wondering if I should practice. The food will be Moon Pies, the event event minutes long, and the sponsor one of our regulars, the Lady Luck Casino in Caruthersville, MO. I'm nervous because Moon Pies are chewy and sticky, and they resist being eaten quickly. It won't take a big appetite to win, just a superior technique, so my greatest strength, my stomach capacity, won't be of much use to me. If I'm going to have a chance of performing well, I'm going to have to develop a winning technique, so I'm going shopping.
1:23pm: Well, that was a failure. Who knew Moon Pies were so hard to find? I hit every decent-sized grocery store around, and the best I could do was a couple of Moon Pie knockoffs. Oh, well. They'll have to do.
3:33pm: Crazy Legs and I are looking at these knockoff Moon Pies I bought. I eat three and wash them down with soda. I eat three more and wash them down with cold lemonade. I eat three more and wash them down with hot water. My mechanics are the same each time because there's not much you can do with Moon Pies; the rules of this contest forbid us from dunking them or breaking them apart. So I'm wondering if my choice of beverage will make a difference, but the sample size of each heat was so small, that it's tough to gauge if any beverage gave me an advantage. I think the hot water worked well, but that's just a feeling.
10:12pm: Sitting down with a big soda to watch Cedar Rapids. To my surprise, they've written a hot dog-eating contest into the script. Competitive eating is always growing! I'm really glad to be a pretty big part of it.
Tuesday, October 11
9:45am: I've got three quick radio interviews this morning, every 15 minutes. I'm promoting Saturday's Moon Pie eating contest at the Lady Luck. Reporters always ask me if I have a job outside of competitive eating. Of course I do, I tell them. I compete about 15 times a year. It would be an awful waste of time not to try to make money during at least some of the year's other 350 days.
11:15am: Arrive at Gruppo for a double.
11:44pm: Closing up shop, but I'm thinking about my travel plans for Saturday. My flight was $420, and a car and a hotel will set me back at least another $150, so I've got close to $600 worth of costs to cover. I might reach out to other eaters about a possible carpool from the airport to the casino, because everybody's cost-conscious, but I've got time to figure that out. Fourth place ($750) will be good enough to cover my costs. Still I'd like to come out ahead on this thing and not just break even.
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