Monday, April 16, 2012

Chestnut and Hot Dogs

Monday April 16, 1:37 p.m.

About once a week, I cook up a couple of hot dogs for lunch. Those are them to the right of you. I fry 'em dark and have them on toasted buns with relish, mustard and cheese. Back in my U of T days, I used to hang out at the International Student Centre where Vera's Kitchen always served a fine mess of Chili Dogs. Because I became a regular at the ISC, Vera used to give me a fair mountain of chili. Underneath all that magma were the dogs. I still have the odd Chili Combo over at Tim Hortons but I think I would put my stomach into severe gastrointestinal distress if I were to do the Chili Dog thing now.

Had my two for the week today, and strangely enough while I was reading leisurely at the local library this morning, I read an old beat-up July 2011 issue of "Vanity Fair"which had a small 1-page article about Joey Chestnut, the reigning hot dog-eating champion of the world. He's the fellow who can down about a few dozen furters in about 10 minutes flat. And he's also quite the multi-tasker: he has won a few other competitive eating contests such as burgers and asparagus spears. Reading the article, it's pretty clear that he's got quite the swagger and the self-assuredness of a champion, although he seems to come off as being quite a fairly normal guy..for a fellow who makes a living at being a human fast food compactor. Chestnut also went into some of his techniques for winning, one of which I wished I hadn't read a few hours before lunch.

Still, he sounds like a fellow that I could have a beer or two (or one thousand, in his case) with at the local pub. That's more than can be said for the fellow who Chestnut has defeated, the former champion from Japan, Takeru Kobayashi. He'd had his own string of championships at the annual 4th of July hot dog eating contest before finally getting dethroned by Chestnut a few years ago. What was kinda freaky about this fellow was that he looked like one of those slacker otaku...scraggly hair on top of a frame that a T-shirt could swallow up. And yet, this guy could shovel down a small bakery's worth of buns and a slaughterhouse's worth of beef franks. And unlike Chestnut, he never struck me as being the most convivial fellow. And there has been talk that he's gotten a bit more cracked now that's he's been defeated multiple times.

Kobayashi also never really hit it big with the media in his own country. Japan adores its athletes to a near-annoying degree and absolutely swoons when one of its own entertainers gets a rare Oscar nomination like Ken Watanabe. And anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time knows that television is just chock-filled with programs on food to elevate food porn to a national religion. And yet, Kobayashi is NOT a national hero. Even during his winning days, perhaps he may have gotten a bit of exposure on the news but I don't ever recall him being swamped at Narita Airport when he returned home (I'd heard that he had residency in America) or being interviewed on any of the morning shows. Again, he's not the most outgoing fellow.

To add insult to injury, Nathan's, the hot dog emporium that has sponsored the hot dog contest in New York City, had made a go of it in Tokyo for some years. Being a hot dog buff and missing my franks during my long years in Japan, I considered myself a fairly regular customer at its 3 or 4 branches in Tokyo. But they all quietly disappeared into the ethos along with Cinnabons and a number of other foreign brands that for whatever reason didn't make it. I guess hot dogs are nowhere near the fast food fave that hamburgers are in The Big Sushi.

Well, I do miss my sushi, unaju and ramen. But still, it's nice to come back home to hot dogs on a regular basis.