Empty plates

The Baltimore Sun

In New Orleans over the weekend, people were flexing their gullets for the Acme World Oyster Eating championship where the winner was a young man from Chicago, Patrick Bertoletti.

But competitive eating is one of those sort-of sports in which women have demonstrated that they can compete with the guys, and at the Big Easy oyster slurp, Germantown's Juliet Lee - all of 105 pounds - finished second.

Lee, who used to be a chemistry teacher in China and operates a hair salon in Germantown, downed 31 1/2 dozen raw oysters (378) in eight minutes. The winner, "Deep Dish" Bertoletti ate 35 dozen.

As impressive as all that might sound, it pales in comparison to the 2005 performance of the woman who blazed the trail for Lee, Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas who ate a record 46 dozen in 10 minutes. Thomas is a world-class speed eater.

"If it wasn't for Sonya, I wouldn't be here," Lee said as she headed back to Maryland yesterday. "I didn't know her name at first but I had heard there was an Asian girl doing this and I researched her on the Internet."

Like the slender Thomas, a native Korean who lives in Alexandria, Va., Lee sports a deceivingly svelte frame for a competitive eater. The 42-year-old mother of two girls is just 105 pounds and usually wears a size 0 to 2 dress.

Lee says she may gain as much as 10 pounds after a competition but sheds it quickly. She swims several times a week and lifts weights.

"I've always been about the same weight," said Lee, who came to the United States 16 years ago. "I think one advantage for me is that I eat only once a day. That's what I've always done, no breakfast or lunch, just one big meal."

That "one big meal" habit seems to serve her well in the binge sprints on the pro circuit, a series of eating events under the oversight of the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

Lee's first crack at a chow-down event was in Greenbelt in 2006, an amateur affair that she won by eating 11 pizza slices in 10 minutes. Her pro debut was in December that year in Atlantic City, N.J., where the entree was meatballs.

Since then, she has taken on hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches (which Lee hadn't even heard of until she ate 13 of them), shoofly pie, pulled pork and cranberry sauce.

The highlight so far was the cranberry sauce competition in Las Vegas; she finished first, eating 13.23 pounds.

At the granddaddy of eating contests last year, Nathan's Famous hot dog championship at Coney Island, she finished 10th (25 hot dogs and buns).

This weekend, she'll be in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for an eating pentathlon. The Broadway at the Beach Ultimate Eating Tournament challenges competitors with five foods: hot dogs, shrimp, chicken wings, pizza and Italian water ice.

There's not a lot of money in competitive eating for most contestants. For many events, the competitors pay their own way and the purses are puny ($1,750 total for the oyster championship) but Lee says she's in it for the fun.

And perhaps someday there might be a contest featuring her dream dish.

"I like seafood," she said, "so it would be lobster."


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