Like most of the crowd who ventured to the Maryland Seafood Festival at Sandy Point State Park Sunday, Walter Hughes arrived ready to eat. But unlike other festivalgoers, Hughes satisfied his appetite by wolfing down six crab cakes in 2 minutes 42 seconds.
In doing so, Hughes won the second round of the festival's crab-eating contest and astonished his fellow competitors and a crowd of onlookers.
When asked to explain how he was able to consume a half-dozen of the crab cakes, each weighing 3 3/4 ounces, Hughes, a 38-year-old carpenter from Port Deposit, said simply, "I was hungry."
Hughes later elaborated, explaining that he did not so much chew the crab cakes as swallow them whole.
Michelle Torres, director of marketing for Phillips Seafood Restaurants, said Hughes was the fastest crab-cake eater she had ever seen. The restaurant had sponsored four crab-eating contests in recent years, Torres said, and Hughes had outpaced all the other winners.
A few minutes before Hughes demolished his plate of crab cakes, Robert Hoover of Annapolis had polished off his six in three minutes, winning the contest's earlier round.
Hoover, 38, who is stationed at Fort Meade, credited his 18 years in the U.S. Army with giving him the attitude needed to win an eating contest. "The Army has taught me to inhale first, taste later," Hoover said.
The crab-cake-eating contests were among several audience-participation competitions at the three-day seafood festival.
The crab-picking contest was won by Mike Jordan of Lutherville. He picked 8.5 ounces of steamed blue crab in five minutes. Second place went to Stuart Anders of Baltimore, who picked 7.5 ounces of crabmeat in the allotted time. Lisa Tuano of metropolitan Baltimore got third place, picking 5.5 ounces of crab meat in five minutes.
Participants in all the crab-related competitions got to eat what they handled.
Dallas Evans of Glen Burnie, for instance, was only able to finish eating three crab cakes in the contest's allotted time. But he walked way from the event with three crab cakes to take home, and a free lunch.
Some disappointed losers like Jonathan Ballew of Baltimore were already plotting their comebacks for next year. Ballew said the crab cakes on his plate were so hot that they burned his tongue, ruining his chances for a win.
Other losers, like Reggie Louis of Gaithersburg, were stunned by their defeat.
"I thought I would win because I was the oldest of four brothers," Louis said. "The way I grew up, if you did not eat quickly, you ended up hungry. The winners must have grown up in a family of 10 kids."
Actually, both Hughes and Hoover came from small families. Each had one sister.
For their efforts, Hughes and Hoover each won an all-they-can-eat seafood dinner for six. Hughes said he had eaten a soft crab stuffed with crab Imperial on Saturday night. But after his Sunday crab cake blitzkrieg lunch, he said, he did not wish to see any crustaceans at his Sunday supper. "I am crabbed out," he said.