04/25/10 — Andy's hosts eating challenge at Pickle Festival

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Andy's hosts eating challenge at Pickle Festival

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 25, 2010 1:50 AM

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"Gentleman" Joe Menchetti takes a bite out of his Big A Challenge burger at Saturday's N.C. Pickle Festival.

MOUNT OLIVE -- "Gentleman Joe" Menchetti, looking dapper in a tuxedo and top hat, threw out flowers as he headed for the stage and the Andy's Big A Challenge. And just 4 minutes and 30 seconds after the 50-ounce hamburger, fries and drink were set in front of him, he was wiping his chin and waiting for the others to finish and for his $1,000 first-place prize.

It was the first time that the annual event has been held at the North Carolina Pickle. People start arriving well in advance of the 11:45 a.m. event that featured four professional eaters and three amateurs competing for cash prizes, bragging right and a full stomach.

Marine John "Big Eatin'" Ingels of Camp Lejeune finished second at 7 minutes and 18.56 seconds to win $500. Daniel "D'Animal" Brisson of Goldsboro was third at 19 minutes 14.1 seconds to win $250.

In the amateur division, Mount Olive College student Adam "Bomb" Brown won first place and $1,000 towards his studies. The amateur eaters had 10 minutes to eat as much as they could. Brown ate about half of the burger and fries. The News-Argus' own Amanda Turner came in second.

Festival-goers had their favorites and cheered them on, particularly after Menchetti had gobbled down his serving. His performance was just a tenth of a second over his qualifying time.

The professional eaters rolled up to the area near the stage in a pink limousine, while the amateurs rode in a compact.

Menchetti, who lives in Wallingford, Conn., describes himself as a world-class eater, as opposed to a professional, since he actually makes his living as a ticket broker.

His eating prowess first became apparent while he was a young school student.

"Back in elementary school I would eat the food that the other kids didn't want," he said. "I did 16 servings of baked beans one day. That started back in fifth grade."

His first competition was in New Jersey when he was with friends and happened to pass a pizza restaurant that was having an eating contest. He easily won his heat and came back a few hours later for the finals.

Menchetti -- who calls himself Gentleman Joe after his disapproving grandmother told him that he at least ate like a gentleman -- discovered the Big A Challenge on the Internet. Drawn by the $1,000 first place purse, he said the quality of the food also makes it worth the drive.

And for owner Kenney Moore, having Gentleman Joe and the others at the Pickle Festival for the first time was a great experience.

"It is the third time we have done it. We have done it in the Greenville mall and at an East Carolina/North Carolina baseball game. This is by far the most fun and the best one that we have done yet so we are going to make this an annual event," he said. "We really like doing it in our back yard."