The heat of excitement shimmers over Sara D. Roosevelt Park, offsetting the gnawing drizzle and the dull September sky. The moment is tense. All eyes are fixed and bets are on.
Who will be the winner of the Dumpling Eating Contest 2011?
A small but enthusiastic crowd of New Yorkers and tourists cheered as ten brave contestants participated in the 8th Annual Chef One’s Dumpling Eating Contest to devour dumplings by the dozen.
Contests devoured dumplings by the dozen at the NYC Dumpling Fest 2011
The event was part of the 3rd Annual Tang’s Natural NYC Dumpling Festival sponsored by the TMI Group, a company specializing in the trade of Asian food, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side last month.
The five-hour long fest was organized in a small space amidst restaurant stalls that presented their own versions of dumplings while competitors entertained dumpling epicureans.
“I was doing my Whole Foods shopping across the street when I noticed the crowd,” said NYU sophomore Poorvi Iyer, who is from India. “The sight of the steam and the spicy smell pulled me right in.”
The contest began as an annual celebration in Chinatown in 2003. Its growing popularity caught TMI Group’s attention in 2008.
“The participants and the audience just grew and grew,” said Lis Malone, the Group’s senior marketing manager. “So three years ago we asked ourselves, ‘why not make it a festival?’”
While the competition was successful in appealing the crowd, its uniqueness lay in the innovative twist added by the Group to kick-start an international turnout.
“We encouraged chefs specializing in Italian, Mediterranean, Indian and Korean cuisines to come up with what dumplings would mean to their homeland,” Malone said. “The idea was to market and promote dumplings as an international entity.”
Since dumplings are defined as dough layers with fillings inside, Malone said people often forget that raviolis of Italy or mandus of Korea are essentially based on the same cooking concept.
The idea was a crowd pleaser.
“Taking a localized dish and fusing Italian, French, Mediterranean, Indian and American flavors into it was a great idea,” said Jake Lee, a tourist from Seoul, Korea. “It definitely had a zing which makes it different from regular food tasting festivals.”
Rohit Sharma, a contestant originally from Singapore and currently working in New York City, agreed. A fan of both East Asian and Indian cuisines, Sharma said he could barely wait to try the Chinese Mirch stall.
Chinese Mirch’s chicken momo dumplings in hot curry sauce
“The steaming chicken dumplings dipped in hot red Indian curry is the climax buzz that today needs,” he said.
His wife, Archita, on the other hand, had her eyes pinned on Ivy Bakery’s exclusive dessert dumpling.
“Spiced apple dumplings spiced with whipped cream!” exclaimed Sharma. “Now who would have though of that?”
Ivy Bakery’s spiced apple dumplings with whipped cream was an exclusive delicacy
The chefs enjoyed the challenge no less.
Morgon Johnson, chef at Elsewhere restaurant, thought the task was unusual at first but she came out feeling “rather gratified” by the end of it.
“My creative side as a chef was challenged, but most importantly I was reminded of the adventurous spirit of New Yorkers.”
As someone who has been in the cooking business for 30 years and opened restaurants in many countries, Johnson said it was only in New York that she found food fanatics that were willing to try just anything and make it their own.
“Dumplings are no longer just an East Asian craze,” Johnson said.
The event also hosted another competition for the Guiness Book World Records. However, it was Chef One’s winner Joseph Menchetti from Philadelphia who stole the show by devouring a shocking total of 69 dumplings as compared to the winner of Guinness World Records, Seth Grudberg, who guzzled 18 steamed pork dumplings.
“It is the first time I’ve ever eaten a dumpling,” said Menchetti, much to the amusement of onlookers.
Nicknamed “Tiger Wings” for his unbeaten record at similar eating contests back home, Menchetti admitted that he would probably never have ventured from his “regular diet of taco bells, meat and burgers” had it not been for the competition.
Joseph Menchetti, winner of the Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest 2011, with his $1,000 cheque. Menchetti ate 69 dumplings
“Honestly, it was amazing,” he said, grinning. “Now all I need is to grab me some dessert.”