The people taking food head on

Kate Purnell, Reporter

Food challenges are becoming increasingly popular in Perth, social media serving in the spread of these spreads. Competitive eating professionals and eateries have had major success in promoting themselves and their joints on a range of social platforms, while rousing a growing number of challengers.

Founder of the Facebook page Perth Eating Challenges, James Cole-Bowen said six years ago he and his friends became interested by the concept and searched for a Perth-based page dedicated to posting about local challenges. Unable to find one, Cole-Bowen set up the Perth Eating Challenges page which currently has almost 48,000 likes.

A range of eateries, from popular restaurants to niche food stalls, are all jumping on board the growing trend throughout the city, with many using prizes and big discounts to appeal to prospective contenders.

Cole-Bowen said the novelty of these events are the leading catalyst inspiring the people of Perth to take on food challenges. He added that the rise in popularity has led to a obvious rise in serious competitors.

Perth challenger, Danilo Margio explains since his first successful food challenge, a 1.5kg burrito, he’s kept a steady interest, staying informed and attempting more food challenges.

One of the world’s highest ranked professional eaters, Randy Santel travelled to Perth last year completing local challenges as part of his Australian tour. Santel who’s from Springfield Missouri, has 716 food challenge wins internationally.

According to Santel, Perth’s food challenge portion sizes are still a lot smaller than the competitions in the United States. However, he adds this is a smart business move as Australia currently has “fewer big eaters” here in comparison to the United States.

On his Australian tour Santel met up with Australia’s first ranked professional competition eater, self-labelled HULKSMASHFOOD. Santel attributes the rapid growth of food challenges in Australia to HULKSMASHFOOD’s influence.

Santel has close to 675,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel where he documents the challenges he attempts. HULKSMASHFOOD has 185,000 followers on Instagram, as his preferred method is to post shorter videos and images of the challenges he competes in.

The large, expanding fan base and view counts on their posts highlight an increase in popularity for food challenges. Growing levels of engagement with content and the desire to participate, has led to eateries using this to their advantage to generate customers.

While researching this story I, for the first time, tried one of Perth’s popular food challenges. I decided to take on the 1kg steak at Outback Jacks. The crew rang a gong and chanted as they delivered the mammoth silver platter to the booth I was sitting in.

Mountains of potato wedges and vegetables were a bed for the steak and brought the total weight to 2kg. With 30 minutes to devour the meal, winners eat for free, losers must pay up.

At the ten minute mark I was three quarters deep into the steak and believed I was fairing quite well. This optimism didn’t last, half way through the sides I knew my stomach was reaching capacity. There was no chance of winning. There was a drastic slow down. I somehow managed a few more bites clearing off the vegetables but never making it to the wedges.

Santel did the steak challenge during his Perth visit which you can watch here.

For the pros, stomach expansion training techniques are crucial to their performance. Cardiovascular exercise before a challenge, plenty of water and a big meal the night before is also recommended.

Becoming a registered dietitian is the next big step for Santel, which he is set to accomplish within the next two years. While this is underway, he explained his plans to use his social media platforms to “help people better understand nutrition and weight management” an area he feels is underrepresented online.