Competitors take part in RA Sushi's annual sushi eating… (Handout photo, Baltimore…)
There's a method to the maki madness. One past champion eats two sushi rolls at a time with quick sips of water in between. Last year's champ builds up an appetite by taking a long swim and bike ride before arriving at the competition.
For others who have not developed a method — or a strong stomach — for the Maki Madness competition at RA Sushi, the restaurant has several garbage pails on hand. Just in case.
In its third season, the brackets-style sushi-roll eating contest — based on the NCAA basketball championships — has grown in popularity and regularly attracts competitive eaters from around the region. The four-hour event is broken up into a series of rounds where contestants are tasked with eating two uncut Tootsy Maki rolls (crab meat, shrimp and cucumber rolled in rice and topped with crunchy tempura) in the fastest time. In the finals, two contestants vie to see who can eat the most rolls in three minutes.
The prize? More sushi. Last year's winner, "Pretty" Peter Jackson, won 12 $50 gift certificates after eating 81/2 Tootsy Maki rolls in the finals.
"It's a fun atmosphere," said Scott Bernas, general manager of RA Sushi. "It is definitely a competitive day, but people really enjoy themselves."
The Harbor East restaurant was the second in the RA Sushi chain to host a sushi-eating competition. The event has been so successful that now all 25 restaurants in the chain host a competition.
"It's a huge hit," Bernas said.
The biggest draw is the ability of the competitors to pack away such large quantities of food, according to Bernas. Last year, the 48 competitors consumed 175 rolls. On the restaurant's busiest night, 350 rolls are served to 700 customers, he said.
"It's insane," Bernas said of the quantity of food consumed during the competition.
Jackson, a 25-year-old Towson resident, estimates that he ate more than 100 pieces of sushi on his way to capturing last year's title.
"I was very full," said Jackson, who had no previous experience in competitive eating before last year's competition. "I was not feeling too hot, but I didn't get sick."
Jackson's key to winning?
"I build up a huge appetite in the morning," he said. "I do not dunk the roll in water during the competition. I just try and take big bites and take small sips of water. I try not to drink too much water."
Jay Gorman, 24, of Washington, who placed second in last year's competition after winning the first year, attributes his competitiveness to his college wrestling days.
Gorman was first lured into competitive eating in college when he participated in burrito-eating contests. In his first professional eating competition, where he ate more than six pounds of strawberries in seven minutes, he placed second.
Now Gorman participates in an average of 10 contests a year throughout the region. He's nicknamed "The Gormonster." And he's usually accompanied by an entourage.
Gorman prepares by eating a small breakfast and lunch the day before the competition.
"I eat nothing for dinner," Gorman explained. "When I go to the contest, I am hungry."
Gorman and Jackson are not what one might expect from a competitive eater. Both men are 5-foot-9 and in good shape. They each attribute their success to an active lifestyle.
"I lift and run," said Gorman, who weighs 190 pounds. "My size does throw people off. They expect me to be taller and heavier. I think I shock a lot of people."
Jackson, at 160 pounds, agreed: "Some people ask me where it all goes. I don't throw it up; I try not to. I just stay really active."
Gorman said he's not worried about any possible damage he's doing to his body by the eating done during the competitions.
"It's certainly something to take into consideration," he said. "This is not a lifelong endeavor. I'm not worried. As long as I'm running and staying in shape, there is not as much damage. As long as I maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, I'll be fine."
Don't expect either of these sushi enthusiasts to shy away from the food following the competition.
Last year, Jackson was back to his twice-a-month sushi-eating schedule after the competition.
"It didn't turn me off of it," Jackson said. "I didn't eat it any more or less than in the past."
Gorman expects a two-week layoff. It's a far cry from the reaction that he had after a hot dog-eating competition a couple years ago.
"Now I just really hate them," he said with a laugh.
If you go:
Maki Madness takes place at RA Sushi, 1390 Lancaster St. on March 20, noon to 5 p.m. The event is free. The deadline to register is March 19. Contestants must be at least 18. Call 410-522-3200 or go to RAsushi.com.