Pat Bertoletti‘s penchant for large engorging qualities of food took him from insecure days as a Chicago teen to the hard-bitten circuit of professional eating.
It took him to 47 contests in one year at the height of his Major League Eating career, from state fairs in Minot, North Dakota, to the stage of America’s Got Talent, where he repulsed judge Heidi Klum by swilling 120 eggs. But he advanced from the audition.
He’s competed against a bear on Nickolodeon, been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world, and set world records for consuming Mars bars, pickled jalapenos, and ice cream. Among many things.
The 37-year-old chef thought he’d left it all behind a few years ago when he retired to run his own taco restaurant. Having had to shut down Taco in a Bag during the COVID-19 shutdowns, he decided to make a partial return to the circuit this summer, specifically for the famed Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.
Bertoletti concedes he has no chance of beating the 13-time Nathan’s champion. Bookmakers agree, having made Chestnut a consensus -3000 pick.
But Bertoletti also concedes that he’s missed the juice. Make that action.
How to bet on the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
Currently, these locations allow for sports betting on the Nathan’s contest.
BetMGM, Caesars, Borgata and Unibet are so far offering markets in those markets. BetMGM also has markets on the total amount of hot dogs consumed by Chestnut (74.5) and women’s favorite Miki Sudo (49.5).
Pat Bertoletti talks everything you did (or didn’t) want to know about pro eating contests
Question: How does a pro eater know if they’ve still got it? Is it like when a baseball swing?
Pat Bertoletti: I think the baseball analogy is great because, yeah, sometimes you’ll just be eating, and then you could tell, right away. You will know right away in the first couple minutes if everything is working properly.
Eating is a lot more complicated … Well, I know it is just eating at the end of the day, [but] there’s chewing, there’s swallowing. There’s a lot of different muscles involved where it’s just not really thought about for the general public.
When you get those all working together, it can be very fun.
How did you prep for the comeback before qualifying for Nathan’s in Washington, DC?
PB: I did an event, I think it was two months ago, donut holes, which was like a prelim for me just to get ready. I finished second with 275, Munchkin donuts, and then the prelim or the DC qualifier, I had been eating a few hot dogs just to get ready. I was just been drinking a lot of water, trying to exercise, although I haven’t really, to be honest. I was just lying to myself.
It just was a lot of muscle memory, going in and being excited, and then it just kind of all fell back into place. I did eat 40 in 10 minutes, which is definitely a lot less than I have done in the past, but I think it’s a pretty good number for being away for so long.
What’s your personal best in the Nathan’s contest?
PB: My personal best is 55 and 10.
How does a big eater become able to eat such great quantities?
PB: The hardest part of eating is acquiring the initial speed, which is basically just putting the food in your mouth, and it’s just going down, requiring little chewing. And that seems to be more of a genetic thing where you’re born with it.
A lot of eaters can improve on that, but that’s the overall hardest thing. And then, you have the stomach capacity. Your stomach is just a giant muscle, which can easily be trained through repetition or just mind over will.
The stomach can expand exponentially, a lot bigger than you can even imagine. And it’s just the question of getting it filled to the capacity, which is very difficult in these competitions because of the timeframe and a lot of other factors.
The food can be hard to get down. Like, hot dogs, in particular, are extremely difficult because you have protein and carbohydrates, and you just are taking in at least a gallon or gallon-and-a-half of liquid throughout the competition, which in itself is 12 pounds.
So there’s a genetic freak factor here? That’s why a lot of the pros seem like average body types?
PB: I think some of it is that. I think it’s also weeded out like the bigger guys because in years past, the real big guys were always what you thought were, like, the eating champions. But that’s not really the case anymore because it doesn’t benefit you.
Say you eat, I don’t know, 10,000 calories in a day. We’re eating that much in 10 minutes. So it doesn’t matter that you could do that long-term. It’s a lot better, and part of it to do it faster. And you can’t really be that big and do the great volume of food because it’s a very physical thing.
And I’m also learning this time around I’m probably like 20-40 pounds heavier than I was 10 years ago. And it’s been a lot more difficult because the fat is very restricting on your stomach. It’s holding you back. So it doesn’t help you at all. It actually hurts you to be that big.
What’s your diet before a contest? And how does your body respond after a contest?
PB: The biggest issue going into all these competitions is you need to have a technique. So you would practice going in and trying to figure out the best, the fastest way to do it. And then that way, when you go to the competition, you have a game plan, and you can implement that.
As far as eating and prepping, you drink a lot of water. You eat like low-calorie foods. I like to eat a bunch of watermelon because it’s easy. It tastes good. And it’s not that hard on your system. You process it pretty fast. And as far as the volume and competition …it’s not pleasant afterward. You get that question a lot.
It’s kind of gross. I mean, you probably just can’t process that amount of food. So you just don’t feel good for a couple days after. We’ll just leave it at that.
What’s your normal diet?
PB: I wake up every day, and I try to wait as long as possible to eat just because I’ve been struggling with overeating my whole life and I have to be very conscious of it. I try to undereat because I know when I’m going to overeat, it’s going to be kind of crazy.
I’m a chef, so I work in the kitchen, and I’m always around food, and it’s just a lot of tasting stuff, but I never sit down for meals, and I never eat breakfast.
Do pro eaters have to be extra vigilant about their health?
PB: The actual eating stuff, it’s better to be a little bit leaner and meaner. The bigger indicator is your weight. It’s how you take care of yourself away from ‘the table,’ as we call it. Because it’s crazy.
You’re getting rewarded for eating a lot. And then, in the beginning, you think you have something to prove, and you’re just overeating all the time because that’s what people expect of you. And then you just have to really find that healthy medium.
You have to balance it. I definitely have heartburn issues. So I take Prilosec every day. But I probably was going to be taking that anyways because I tend to eat like a total asshole and not watch it anymore.
Are there foods you don’t like to eat in contests?
PB: There are a lot of foods I’ve had to eat in competition that I don’t like, like raw oysters. Raw oysters are a little bit hard for me because I don’t really like texture. I don’t really like pickled jalapenos, which I’ve done. I have the record in oysters and jalapenos. But it doesn’t really actually matter.
If you’re on the top level, you go into the competition, the food is just a byproduct. You don’t taste it.
In the worst-case scenario, you get textures, and if you’re tasting the food, then you’re not there 100 percent. You’re not in the zone. And I’ve had it a few times where I tasted the food, and it wasn’t very pleasant. But for the most part, the food is not really an issue.
How much of it is mental when you get to ‘the table’?
PB: You kind of have to go into a different place and just turn your brain off and get into this zone. It’s a great feeling. I mean, that was one of the things I missed. I missed training. I missed the travel. I missed the camaraderie, doing well at something. And then just that feeling when you just are in it and you feel great.
I never had that growing up in sports or anything where I was actually good at anything. And eating was like, the one thing I was pretty good at. So that’s, that’s definitely a plus too.
Can you tell before you start eating whether you’re going to win?
PB: I tend to find out from the other eaters if I can win or not. Joey Chestnut will always win hot dogs. But any other competition is up for grabs. I’m happy to be good friends with Joey. So I know if he’s taking it seriously or not. He’s very beatable in other foods, but not in hot dogs.
And then there’s different disciplines. There are like ‘debris’ foods, like ribs and wings, anybody can win those events because they take technique, and on any given day, somebody could show up in the top 10, and they could do really well and blow everybody else out.
And then a lot of the other foods you kind of just know based on the rankings and your camaraderie and the other eaters, if you’re going to do well or not, if you can win.
Why is Joey Chestnut unbeatable in hot dogs?
PB: I think the reason Joey is so good at hot dogs is mentally, he is by far stronger.
He decided a long time ago. We came up at the same time. So he was telling everybody that he was going to beat Kobayashi. And then we all told him he was crazy because we all believed that he was unbeatable. And for a couple years, he was unbeatable, and then Joey came in and ruined his life and took him down. But he just decided he was going to do it.
And he’s able to, for whatever reason. And I think some of his is genetics for sure. And then also I think the bigger thing with him is he is able to push himself to the breaking point. And for hot dogs, usually halfway through the competition, you notice they start drinking a lot water to just get it down because you’re naturally slowing down.
But he does not slow down. He does not drink, like, a single sip of water that he doesn’t ingest through the buns, which is like very incredible.
So hot dogs are the toughest?
PB: Yeah, for me, hot dogs are the hardest. And if he’s going to eat 76 hot dogs and buns, he’s looking at food and water weight, over, like 25 or 26 pounds, which is an astronomical amount of food.
What’s your pro eater origin story?
PB: There’s a few things in my history. I think when I was 16, I was at a company picnic for my dad’s company.
And I went in a pie-eating contest, and I beat a bunch of grown men. And then I ate a whole pie afterward as, like, showing off.
So that was one thing. And then I remember one year, I think there was a barbecue in high school, and I ate eight or 10 hot dogs on top of my regular lunch, so that was something.
I don’t know, it’s a talent. I don’t know.
I just was looking for something to be good at. And I don’t want to say it was my identity, but when you’re a teenager, and you have nothing going on, and you graph something onto your personality.
It’s kind of embarrassing to say I did that, but I guess eating a lot, just being that guy was my thing.
And then, I did my first professional event. I did pretty well. This was probably 19 years ago. And then I swore I would never do it again because I felt terrible. And then, fast-forward to this, I’ve been around, done it everywhere.
Are you going to do a bun-drop on the comeback after Nathan’s?
PB: I think I’ll do a few more events. I’ll pick and choose. Actually, there’s a banana pudding contest in August. That’s in Alabama. So I’m going to do that one. That’s the next one. I’ve never been to Alabama. So that’s the fun part about the travel.
You get to go to places you would never go. So that’s the main reason I’m going to that one, and then stuff will pop up throughout the year. And then you never know. I’m not going to go full-time back in it like I did before, but I’ll probably pick and choose, and we’ll see, you know?
I never would’ve guessed that I’d be back doing this and really thought I wouldn’t. So I’m here now.