Q&A: Professional competitive eater Matt Stonie on what it’s like to stuff his face for a living

Q&A: Professional competitive eater Matt Stonie on what it’s like to stuff his face for a living

Stonie at last year's World Poutine Eating Championship Photo courtesy of Smoke's Poutinerie

Matt Stonie is living the dream—it’s his job to eat. The 24-year-old from San Jose is currently the second-ranked professional eater in the world. He’s also the reigning champ of Smoke’s Poutinerie’s World Poutine Eating Championship—a title he will try to defend this October 1 at Yonge-Dundas Square. We caught up with Stonie to learn more about his job.

How did you become a professional competitive eater?
It’s not one of those things that you wake up one morning and decide to do. I was just starting college, and money was a little bit tight. There was an eating contest near my house. I signed up and ended up winning $1,000 for 10 minutes of eating seafood. I kind of got addicted to the competitive aspect of it—and obviously, you get to eat food and win cash.

What did your parents think?
At first they thought I was just going through a phase, but they never told me to stop doing it. I definitely their attitude shift once they saw that I was taking it seriously and travelling across the world for competitions. They love it now. They’re the most supportive people. They help me cook and they time me when I’m practising—my brother’s been a big help, too. I’m very lucky.

How do you prepare for a competition?
I eat! If you’re a swimmer, you jump in the pool and swim laps. For me, because I’m training for the poutine contest next month, I’ll start making and eating poutine a week or two beforehand. It’s really hard to make at home because cheese curds are impossible to find here, but I always do the best I can to mimic the food I’ll be eating at a contest, getting used to the flavour and the texture. People say I shouldn’t eat the same food ahead of time because I’ll get sick of it but it’s not about enjoying myself. It’s a competition. It’s about tolerance and knowing what to expect.

So you do a lot of cooking and eating at home—what are your grocery bills like?
My grocery bills are pretty high but they’re my only expenses for the year—and they’re all work expenses, so I can write them off.

Do you do anything else on the side, or is this your full-time job?
I’ve made it my full-time job. I was in college before, but trying to balance hot dog practices with school was pretty hard. I do professional contests and I also manage my YouTube channel where I post videos weekly. Between those two things, I’m kept pretty busy.

What have been some of the harder challenges?
Sometimes the hardest contests are the best contests—like Smoke’s poutine contest, the gyoza contest I was in last month or the Nathan’s hot dog contest. Those are the best ones out there but they’re the most difficult because everybody tries that much harder to win.

Do you feel sick after a competition?
It depends on the food. The contests I feel the worst after are the ones that involve sugary food,like Peeps, birthday cake or Twinkies. The sugar rush messes with your body a little bit. The same goes for contests that involve a lot of heavy meat because the protein is harder to digest, so your body’s working overtime.

We won’t ask you to share any of your secrets, but are there general dos and don’ts?
I wouldn’t say there are any trade secrets—just some basic, sensible things you should or shouldn’t do. Pay attention to your breathing or you’ll suffocate while eating, and that will slow you down. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Don’t chew too much, and focus on your swallowing instead. You don’t want to choke, so you do have to chew, but if you chew too much it makes your jaw tired and it slows you down. Everybody knows what works for them—there’s no book on how to be a competitive eater.

What are some of your personal bests?
I did 200 Peeps in six minutes, 14.5 pounds of birthday cake in eight minutes, 21 pounds of pumpkin pie in eight minutes, 62 hot dogs at last year’s, 182 slices of bacon in five minutes and 373 Japanese dumplings in 10 minutes.

Is there anything you won’t eat?
I think there’s a time and a place for everything. A few years ago I was invited to Ireland to do an oyster contest, and I couldn’t pass it up. The oysters were really good and clean, and the contest was only a few minutes long. There’s another oyster contest that I haven’t done that runs eight minutes long and the oysters are really big—I’ve heard horror stories about it. But I couldn’t say that there’s nothing I wouldn’t try that you could buy at a restaurant. If you can order it off a menu, I’ll eat it.