Legendary Eater Kobayashi Wins Chronic Taco Challenge
The taco-eating challenge at The Palms in Las Vegas this year was chronic, if not pretty. The legendary eater and reigning champ Takeru Kobayashi gobbled down 137 chicken soft tacos in 10 minutes to claim the $5,000 cash prize and the flowered skull trophy of the 6th Annual Gringo Bandito Chronic Tacos Challenge.
Fans of competitive eating may remember Kobayashi as the winner of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on the Fourth of July in Coney Island. Now sporting fluorescent pink hair, but still weighing in around 131 pounds, Kobayashi won the Nathan's contest five straight years, starting in 2001, when the amateur eater first came to the U.S. from Japan. He later turned pro, but had a setback when Joey Chestnut claimed the Nathan's title for the next seven years.
Competitive eaters are a strange breed. “Every one of them has (his or her) own technique and none of them are pretty,” says Chronic Tacos CEO Michael Mohammed. For Kobayashi that involves ensuring his glasses of water on stage are at a specific temperature at all times. Water consumption not only helps the tacos go down easier, it stretches out the stomach, Mohammed says, although quickly admitting he’s not an expert on this. How many tacos could he consume in 10 minutes? “Three,” he answers, sounding like even at that low number he’s exaggerating his eating ability.
The contest is an event more so than a serious attempt to compete with the Nathan's of the world. It’s also a chance to pair up with their vendor, Dexter Holland, maker of Gringo Bandito hot sauce. While it’s hard to gauge the return on investment of such an event, the social media engagement is always high, as fans tweet and post during the competitions. Las Vegas was selected as the 2016 site because a new store was going into The Palms and could use the hype, plus the contest could use its kitchen for the hundreds of tacos needed. Leftover tacos—chicken and cheese in a soft corn tortilla—were handed out to the crowd, as well as churros and swag bags.
Chronic, by the way, means “the best” in Southern California lingo, where the chain of 37 taco shops was born. And the Day of the Dead décor lends that authenticity to the brand of fast-casual Mexican cuisine.