TOWER, Minn. — A resort casino here is hosting a competitive eating contest June 22, and it wouldn't be northern Minnesota if wild rice hotdish wasn't on the menu.
Darron Breeden has never eaten wild rice hotdish, but based on his research — recipes and YouTube videos — he believes he can probably eat 20 pounds in 8 minutes.
“It looks relatively easy to eat,” Breeden, 30, said in a phone interview from Orange, Va., where he is a high school teacher. “With casseroles, there’s not much chewing involved.”
Breeden is the No.5-ranked competitive eater in the world and is among the favorites for the title of Wild Rice Hotdish Eating Champion — a first-time contest that will be held at 3 p.m. June 22 at Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower, about 90 miles north of Duluth.
The field, which typically includes about 12 entrants, is at capacity. Top prize is $2,500.
Major League Eating, as stat-heavy as any audience-friendly sport, has about 80 events a year, including the biggest in the biz — Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. It keeps a 50-eater ranking of men and women on its website, a list that starts with Joey Chestnut, a 230-pound Californian who can eat 73.5 hot dogs, buns and all, in 10 minutes, and ends with No. 50, Alex Perez, a 40-something Texan nicknamed “The Moose” who once ate 112 Hooters wings in 10 minutes.
This is the third Major League Eating competition to be held at Fortune Bay. Geoff Esper, ranked No. 3 in the world, ate 30.5 Indian Tacos at the resort-casino to win the event in 2018 — bettering his mark from the previous year by 1.5 tacos.
He’s the favorite for the Wild Rice Hotdish Eating competition.
Wild Rice Hotdish, which will be prepared at Fortune Bay, is a natural pick for a food competition, according to Sam Barclay who said it was his destiny to work with Major League Eating.
“It’s obvious,” he said. “Hotdish is a great Minnesota staple. A family gathering without hotdish is a day without sunshine.”
Breeden is going into the competition with a recent victory: In early June he ate a personal best 44 dozen oysters in 8 minutes at the Acme World Oyster Eating Championship in New Orleans. A television news story from WGNO, the local ABC affiliate, shows the defending champion with his face inches from the pan, shoveling oysters with a fork, meat hanging from his mouth.
“I won $1,000, a sweet belt and bragging rights,” Breeden said.
Oysters, by design, would be among his strengths.
“Anything that goes down easy,” he said, a list that includes chili or soup — though he has fared well with potstickers, chicken spiedies and tamales.
Breeden said he has a good stomach capacity, but isn’t as strong with technique foods like chicken wings — where the meat has to be pulled from a bone.
He isn’t much of a cook, he said, so he hasn’t tested wild rice hotdish at home.
“I’m just going to lift the bowl to my face and shovel the rice right in,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot to it.”
Part of his pregame prep has been researching the competition, specifically Esper.
“I know he’s an absolute monster,” Breeden said. “He trains for every event. He puts in a lot of work, and it shows — he’s won multiple titles. He has a large stomach capacity.”
It’s not possible to know a person’s eating potential at a glance, according to Barclay, who was described in a New Yorker article as being the go-to for rattling off individual stats for competitors. This is a sport of mental strength.
“If you screened for the true defining characteristics: That person is pure of heart, has moral courage, tenacity, a great competitive nature and willingness to push ahead,” he said. “When the body says no, (they’re) willing to push on for the sake of glory.
“There is a certain point in any marathon where the marathon runner says, ‘Why am I doing this. This is very painful. What separates them from us is they’re willing to put one foot in front of the other.”
The competitors will be served by the pound, according to Barclay, who has sampled a side dish of the meal du jour. There has never been a wild rice hotdish competition, so whatever happens at Fortune Bay will be the world record and set the standard.
“We basically live in the dark ages,” Barclay said. “We don’t know how much wild rice hotdish major league eaters can eat. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.”
If you go
What: Wild Rice Hotdish-Eating Championship
When: 3 p.m. June 22
Where: Fortune Bay Resort Casino, 1430 Bois Forte Rd., Tower, Minn.