Peel power propels Baltimorean to shrimp contest

Tomorrow, Youngblud faces a bowl of 100 shrimp

Outside

September 01, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Toot Youngblud can scarf down some shrimp.

He doesn't get to that often, but when he does, he really does. Last time it was 30 big ones - more than a pound - in five minutes. Packing in that many won him the regional tournament of the Old Bay Peel and Eat Shrimp Contest last month in Rhode Island.

Tomorrow at the Harborplace Amphitheatre, Youngblud will take his seat in the contest's final round. He faces nine other eaters, a 10-minute time limit and a bowl filled with 100 shrimp.

But Youngblud's not too pressed - this time, he'll have the hometown advantage. Born in the city and raised on seafood loaded with Old Bay, he's ready to represent.

"This isn't anything that Baltimoreans don't do in their backyard every weekend," Youngblud said. "I didn't do anything special. This is how we're raised. This is what we do. We get a cold drink, whether it be beer, soda or whatever, and we eat our crabs and we eat our shrimp."

When Youngblud, a computer-assisted drafting designer, surfed the Web this spring and came across the contest, he knew he had to sign up. First, he submitted a short essay about himself.

"We ask people to describe in 100-250 words why the nominee is America's biggest seafood fanatic and the lengths they'd go to for a taste of Old Bay," said Kate Northrup, an Old Bay spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Youngblud said he wrote that he was raised on Old Bay. He can remember seeing the little blue-and-yellow metal spice can with the red plastic lid on a shelf inside his grandmother's cupboard.

"It was almost a birthright," he said.

Youngblud's essay was good enough to qualify him for the Northeast regional shrimp eat-off in Rhode Island. Of 2,400 submitted, his was chosen as one of 25 semifinalists.

Considering the price per pound, shrimp is more of a treat than a staple at Youngblud's house, he said. Before the Rhode Island competition, he said, he hadn't eaten shrimp for months. Steak, however, was a different story. Youngblud and one of his buddies regularly throw a couple pounds of beef on the grill out back and dig in.

"If I could eat beef like that, I knew I could take shrimp down," he said.

Even shrimp seasoned with Old Bay?

"I was saying, `I know they're not as spicy as my wife's, so I should be able to handle what they put in front of me," he said.

The day of the contest, Youngblud ate a couple doughnuts and drank a cup of coffee for breakfast to prep his belly. No sense dumping shrimp - or anything, for that matter - on an empty stomach, he thought. When he sat down at the table and the timer started, he said, the four other contestants sitting next to him seemed to disappear.

"I wasn't even concentrating on anybody around me. I was just looking at what I was doing and concerned about peeling those shells off and popping them in my mouth."

Averaging one every 10 seconds, Youngblud finished first, winning $500 and a seat at the finals.

Peeling and power-cramming 30 shrimp wasn't enough to fill him, though, and Youngblud topped his stomach off with an Italian sausage shortly after.

After the finals tomorrow, Youngblud might not need to munch. Last year's winner, John Dabashinsky, peeled and ate 96 shrimp in 10 minutes, Northrup said. The winner and runner-up from each region - a total of 10 people - will compete in the finals.

Tomorrow, Youngblud said he's going to have the same mentality as when he stepped off the plane in Rhode Island:

"I'm going to concentrate on me and that's it, and do my best and hope that it's good enough," he said. "I definitely want to bring the title home where it belongs."

The Old Bay Peel and Eat Shrimp Contest starts at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Harborplace Amphitheatre, 200 E. Pratt St. Entry forms for the 2006 contest will be available on-site. They're also at www.oldbay.com.

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