The world of epic food challenges can easily leave animal lovers feeling a little left out. Thanks to the likes of Adam Richman and his Carnivore Chronicles, plus fixtures of the food calendar like Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest, eating competitions are almost exclusively synonymous with massive, colon clogging quantities of meat. It might be just as difficult, but there’s something significantly less intimidating about a giant pile of carrots than there is about a plateful of pig. But, after years spent hangrily watching from the sidelines, vegans and veggies may finally have a challenge that they can call their own.
Last week, we had the honour of observing the UK’s first ever vegan “triple chilli” eating challenge. Hosted by slutty food specialists MEATliquor, the format was a twist on their signature meaty triple chilli challenge, which has become a staple of MEATliquor restaurants around the country. But, after many carnivorous competitors have come and gone, the powers that be have decided it’s high time that the herbivores had a go.
The format is simple. Entrants must eat a spiced potato, beetroot and black bean burger; plant-based chilli dog; and black bean chilli fries, all in 10 minutes or less in order to claim the coveted chilli trophy. Contenders have to compete with both heat from the fiery chilli-laced components, as well as the sheer quantity of food. All you have to assist you are a few flagons of water and some cutlery. Make no mistake - this is a big ask.
Being the inaugural vegan triple chilli challenge, there was some serious pageantry on display. Four would-be challengers were lead onto a stage, sat behind a bench and encouraged by a loudhailer-wielding MC, while the times of previous champions were proudly displayed on the wall behind their heads. It would be easy to be intimidated by the frankly astonishing record of four minutes and six seconds, but it was important to remember that this was uncharted territory. No one yet knew exactly how hard overcoming three edible vegan obstacles would actually be. We were all about to find out.
As the competition kicked off, it was clear that some participants had spent more time strategising than others. The two on the ends lept into an early lead, both deciding to tackle the burger before anything else. The middle two each grabbed a chilli dog, taking a few bites before their expressions turned from excitement to alarm. After a few minutes’ munching, the bespectacled man on the far left of the quartet established himself as the clear front runner, finishing the burger in around three minutes while his rivals looked on with a mixture of admiration and horror.
As the challenge continued, the sheer scale of the food mountain ahead of them became too much for some of the contestants. The leader’s closest rival became redder and more miserable with each bite, hiccupping with every increasingly tiny mouthful of vegan dog. The middle pair had already accepted their fate, and were instead nibbling like a pair of dawdling tortoises, enjoying what was now essentially a delicious, if admittedly massive, meal. It was now up to one man to try and conquer the competition.
All seemed well for the iron-stomached warrior until it came to the fries. Having dispatched the dog and burger with a little less than half the time remaining, it looked to all the onlookers like the innocuous-looking bowl of thin cut chips and veggie chilli would be swept aside in a matter of mouthfuls. How wrong we were.
With each chew, the leader’s pace slowed. As the chilli heat built to an invisible inferno, his face grew redder. He had hit a potatoey wall that no amount of water could help overcome. As the clock ticked down, it looked like all hope was lost. But, with just a few seconds remaining, he steeled himself and forced an almighty forkful of fries into his face. The plate was empty. In exactly 10 minutes. Cue, bedlam.
After the furore had finally died down, we were able to grab a few words with the winner. Without doubt, he revealed, the hardest element were the fries, which were not only the stodgiest, but the spiciest element of the challenge. While the burger and the dog were both delicious and “went down a treat”, it was the gradual build up of spice that made the final few mouthfuls almost too much to bear.
Some people might try and make light of a meatless eating challenge. Having seen the agony etched on the faces of everyone foolish enough to take to the MEATliquor stage first hand, I now know that there’s at least one place where these people can put their money where their mouth is. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.