When the referee called time Friday afternoon outside the new Stuffed restaurant, Shelley Morris had probably never looked less dignified in front of students.
The assistant principal of activities at Huntington Beach High School had sour cream smeared across her face, dotted with stray bits of lettuce. Her hands were similarly caked as the remains of a nearly finished burrito lay haphazardly on the plate in front of her.
But thanks to her voracious appetite, her school was now richer.
Morris had conquered Edison High School Principal D'Liese Melendrez in the downtown Huntington Beach restaurant's burrito-eating contest, which it hosted as part of its grand opening celebration. The two women were each given a large burrito packed with meat, cheese, vegetables, rice and sour cream. Each was given five minutes to eat as much as possible.
The prize: $500 for the school, not to mention school pride, as students from both campuses crowded the outdoor patio by Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway to cheer on their administrators.
Angie Pines of Pure PR Associates, who helped the restaurant set up the contest, had butterflies of her own as the opponents prepared to face off.
"When we first reached out to them, we thought they would say no," Pines said. "But then they said yes. We're kind of self-conscious about making them sick."
As customers lined up around the block for free burritos, the kitchen staff set to work cooking the contest cuisine. Morris had requested no beans, and the cooks went ahead and prepared identical burritos to ensure a fair contest.
Melendrez, going in, said she had no experience with eating contests. Morris, though, called herself a proud veteran. In high school she often joined a member of the water polo team to see who could eat 10-packs of tacos the fastest.
Despite going against a formidable opponent — the guy's nickname was Beef — Morris said she often won those bouts.
"I don't know," she said. "I've always been able to put food away."
Finally, the burritos were ready, and Morris and Melendrez took their places side by side at a long table on the patio. The two posed for pictures, then cut their dishes in half with plastic knives to make finger food easier.
After the referee gave the signal, both women dug into their meals. Morris took the lead almost from the start, cramming multiple bites into her mouth at once and keeping her composure when Melendrez leaned over and tickled her side.
The crowd counted down the last 10 seconds, and then a Stuffed employee used a scale to weigh the remains on each woman's plate. Morris, who devoured more than half her burrito and left just three quarters of a pound, was proclaimed the winner.
As the crowd cheered, she and Melendrez hugged, both still chewing their last bites.
Morris said she intended to present the money to the school's associated student body, with hopes that it would go to scholarship funds. She still had a long day at the office ahead, but no huge meals planned.
"Right now, nothing," she said. "I am going to brush my teeth, though."