Gravy Brown of Major League Eating (MLE): How does one decide to become a competitive eater?

I think I’ve always been at peace with my inner 3rd grade fat kid. So when the notion of stuffing my face with as much food as possible in ten minutes crossed my mind, I jumped at the opportunity. Finally I was going to get close to my childhood fantasy of bathing my naked body in a buffet filled with only my favorite deep-fried delicacies. No vegetables up in that motherfucker.

My first contest was a grilled cheese contest in Detroit. I so thought I was going to win…but in the end I got third. Won some dough and was hooked!

That being said, competitive eating did not turn out to be the food orgy that I had hoped it would be. It’s a grueling, athletic event. It takes 10 percent appetite and 90 percent crazy to put yourself through this sort of thing over and over again.


You’re the eighth-ranked “Gurgitator” in the world.  When was the moment you first thought, “Damn.  I might be pretty good at this”?

First off, I am now #10, which I consider a big sore spot. They recently came out with new rankings and put two people ahead of me. Juliet Lee, who hasn’t beaten me in some time and hasn’t really had any significant victories or higher totals then me in a few years. Then there’s Aaron Astoff, who has taken my 8th place spot.  I can maybe see Aaron Osthoff.  He has had some good numbers as of late, but he has never beaten me head-to-head except for an ill-fated cupcake contest in which they ran out of food halfway through the contest.

But you know, I’ve never been great, but I know I’m good. I don’t put the time into it like some other guys. I have three jobs, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to start putting myself through hot dog practices at 10 o’clock at night. But without spending much time on all that, I’m still someone who can put it down with the best of ’em!


What MLE records and titles do you hold?

I’m the Buffalo Wild Wings Potato Wedge Champ. But to me that’s kind of bogus. I got it on an undercard bout on a Spike special we did some years back. It’s hard to grab titles when you have Joey TheseNutts (#1 Ranked Eater Joey Chestnut) or Pat Bertoletti at every contest you attend. But those guys are beasts. The time and effort they put in to the sport is admirable and/or insane…I’m not sure which at the moment. But they certainly deserve whatever titles they bring home.


Of what victory are you proudest?

I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get to the level of a Joey Chestnut or Pat Bertoletti. So I’m most proud when I pummel competitors more appropriately matched up at my level.  Erik the Red (Erik Denmark), Aaron Osthoff, Adrian Morgan, Sean Gordon and Juliet Lee. These are the people who I love to compete with and on whose faces I love to see the tears of disappointment when I pummel them with my eating prowess!


How do you train?

As I mentioned before, I’m not big on training. I used to travel down to my partner and fellow competitive eater Pat’s (Pat Bertoletti) house twice a week. We would sit in his sweaty apartment and go through all the snot enduring hell together, but I have since stopped. I do think some training is necessary. You need to keep your technique and speed down. Basically remind yourself how to do it quickly but past those few times, my pursuit of competitive eating centers on the travel and pleasure and training hard does not fit into that M.O.



What’s your routine on the day of a match? 

I don’t really have one. I used to get all worried and worked up before a contest. Every eater has a routine, some guys won’t even let you talk to them because of how deep in the zone they are. I used to run around trying to get just the right pill cocktail going of GasX, caffeine, and Pepto to put me over the edge. But after doing this for a few years, you realize it’s just sort of too much. I mean, if a ritual helps get you going, more power to you. I was just spending too much time running around making sure I had everything I needed and it turns out all I was really doing was stressing myself out. Now I just hang out, try and have fun with my competitive eating friends and enjoy the ride.


Do your competitive-eater instincts ever kick in when you’re just out with friends?

As a Major League Eater we are under contract. I would love to just take that shit to the streets like they did in Step Up 2, but we are pros and as pros are only allowed to compete in sanctioned events. Which is cool; I understand:  safety first. Plus, the league is very open as long as you’re up front with them should you have any ideas or events of the eating nature that you would like to pursue.


What’s your read on Takeru Kobayashi’s beef with Major League Eating? 

If I could understand what Koby was saying I might have better insight as to what his motivations are. Someone sign him up for English lessons at the learning annex!


You have a food truck in Chicago, “Glutton Force Five,” that serves…what would you call it?  Gourmet junk food?  Haute comfort? Tell the people ‘bout the menu.

The man who invented the Doritos Taco is our Van Gogh! But it was ruined by the company who decided to make it cheaply by inserting Grade Z meat into such a novel idea.  My partner Pat (Bertoletti) and I have traveled the world for our sport and have always been just as excited to try the regional fast food as much as some of the local haute cuisine. So that is what our menu is about. Quality takes on the fast food concept.


What’s going on in GF5’s Research& Development Kitchen?

The crazier the better. Pat just put the finishing touches on a meat parfait. It looks like a sundae but tastes like a cheeseburger! Spicy ground beef on the bottom, a layer of beer-braised onions that melts in your mouth, a layer of Merkts cheese spread, and topped off with French onion mashed potatoes that are whipped up to look like the topping on a sundae.


You’re circumspect about some of your difficulties with the City of Chicago bureaucracy and laws vis-à-vis food trucks.  Expound on the ridiculousness that prevents Chicago from having the great food truck scene other cities enjoy.  No word limit on the soapbox, and feel free to swear.

Let me expand on the above-mentioned meat parfait. It is a parfait simply because the City of Chicago will not allow us to cook on our truck. I have to cook, package and label all food in a separate kitchen. I cannot even assemble a sandwich. And if I were to do it a few hours before serving it to you, you might throw it back in my face because the bread would be soggy or congealed from sitting in a hot box for hours.  If I want to sprinkle some crispy fried onions on top of our meat sundae, I could get a fine of up to $2,000.  There was just a huge town hall meeting regarding food trucks. I have a feeling it’s going to change soon, but I’m not holding my breath.   [AB: Here’s the latest on Chicago’s food truck situation as of press time.  (h/t to the Tribune’s @MonicaEng via Twitter).]


My brother hates raw tomatoes.  Couldn’t eat one on a bet.  How about you?  Any events you just sit out because of an innate distaste?

Hells no! As a competitive eater you are challenged by the more repulsive foods. Put up $5,000 at a chicken wing contest in St Louis, and you still will have more people show up to fight over $2,000 at a goat testicle swallowing contest in Denver!


I’ve lost the ability to eat movie popcorn and/or drink Guinness, both due to what MLE calls “reversals.”  What food (or foods) have been spoiled for you by competition?

Some foods I look forward to more then others. I love ribs and wings because they are what we call a “debris food.”  You will more than likely not get overstuffed and you can just go hard for the full contest time.


How on earth do you not weight 700 pounds?   Jogging?  Purging?  Performance-enhancing drugs?

A little bit of all of them!  Five miles a day, five days a week!  Also, my girlfriend and I have redone one of the bathrooms in our house and renamed it the Vomitorium.  We have taken out all the fixtures, shower doors, sink, toilet, etc.  Covered the whole thing in tile and left only a drain in the corner with an eastward runoff. Instead of a shower head there is this high-powered hose thingy. It makes for easy clean-up. If I get some time I may try and put together a tile mosaic of some of my MLE rivals on the floor so I can vomit on them after a contest.


Most of the chefs I know say no one ever cooks for them because of the pressure.  Do people not invite you to dinner because they expect you will eat nine pounds of food? 

The reason people don’t invite me to dinner has nothing to do with the fact that I like to eat.


You were disqualified at Coney last year for what is politely called a “reversal.”  Walk us through it.

I didn’t reverse. I got a hot dog lodged in my nasal cavity and couldn’t breathe. This is why Major League Eating insists you only do sanctioned contests with the proper medical staff on hand. I did bow out at three hot dogs but I am the only man to scratch out of the finals and get the Heimlich maneuver in front of 40,000 people. Sweet!


Sportsbook.com is taking action on the Nathan’s Famous Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest.  You ever worry about an MLE gambling scandal?

I don’t know if I would put all my dough on Joey this year. Pat or Eater X may have this one. Joey has won, like, five years in a row, and I think he may not be training as hard. This may be someone else’s year.

I always wanted to throw one of those things. You can bet on smaller matches as well.  [AB: Multiple online sportsbooks take action on Coney.] Like, if I will beat Erik the Red by so many hot dogs. I could work out a deal with Erik Denmark, then have a distant acquaintance’s sister place a bet. Hey, what’s your sister doing on the 4th?


You ever finish a competition and think, “Man, I wish I hadn’t done that.  That one hurt.”

I have often wanted to kill myself due to the pain but I have never regretted doing any competition.


So what’s the morning after feel like?   Do you get hung-over from digesting, say, thirty dozen oysters?

I get hung over for rocking out hard!  The best part of this sport is when it’s over. Traveling to the strangest places with my buds. Taking over a town after a competition. You can’t fucking beat it!  That is probably the best thing about this sport.


From what competition did you take the longest to recover?

It took me a while to recover from that erotic push-up contest at your mom’s house last night!


If some kid came to you and said, “Gravy, I want to be a competitive eater.  Not only that, I want to be the greatest Gurgitator of all time,” what advice do you give?

Being a competitive eater is easy, being good takes some talent, and wanting to be great and actually taking the time to do so means you are mentally challenged. (Sorry, Joey!)


Tim “Gravy” Brown is a Gurgitator with Major League Eating.   His food truck, Glutton Force Five, operates in Chicago.  He is scheduled to compete in the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 4th.

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ALAN BROUILETTE is a freelance writer of magazine articles, comedy, and scripts. His career peak thus far is his inclusion in the anthology "Best Food Writing 2011." He prefers to writing about food and sports to writing news - which he used to do - and prefers Gonzo journalism to the responsible kind. You can find him, and some of his writing, at brouilette.com.

4 responses to “21 Questions with Tim ‘Gravy’ Brown”

  1. Lisa P says:

    This. Is. Awesome.

  2. It’s oddly fascinating when someone is born w/ a healthy immune system and digestive tract and sets out to destroy both. I tried to keep an open mind, to see if there was an element of competitive eating I’d previously overlooked, but Brown reinforced all my perceptions. You wrote about him effectively, though, Alan.

  3. […] · More posts about:2012 Nathan's Hot Dog Contest, Tim BrownThe Nervous Breakdown has an interview with Tim “Gravy” Brown. Topics of discussion include his disqualification from the 2011 Nathan’s finals, predictions […]

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