The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 1, 2013

Henderson's annual eating contest is KRAUTALICIOUS

Sauerkraut-eating competition not for the weak of stomach

By Brian Ojanpa
The Mankato Free Press

---- — HENDERSON — On the eating contest Disgust-O-Meter, this one ranks right up there.

And the folks at Henderson’s Sauerkraut Days wouldn’t have it any other way.

The annual community event hosts the usual array of ball games and parades, plus its culminating touch — a sauerkraut eating contest that over the years has been tinkered with until it now resembles equal parts pro wrestling extravaganza and a pig-out in the extreme.

On Sunday ,contest emcee Denny Graham presided over the crowning of a new caliph of cabbage in a beer tent abounding with awed onlookers.

Four non-competing former champs were introduced first, including retired district court judge Terry Dempsey of New Ulm (Kraut King, ‘62), and Brian Schneewind,who received a reverential ovation in keeping with his Ruthian record-holding status: He once downed his two pounds in 60 seconds — the sauerkraut-eating equivalent of a 500-foot home run.

Then it was time to introduce the 2013 competitors. Each had their own intro music, and as they were individually announced they bounded, danced, whatever, from the back of the tent to the stage, where paper plates piled with their fermented shreddings awaited.

This year’s competitors included sauerkraut virgin Rick “The Mexacutioner” Rodriguez.

What have you been told about kraut, Rick?

“That it’s real sour.”

Other krautestants included a guy dressed in a gorilla suit, defending champion Cliff Gorman garbed in a superhero outfit, and a man done up in a Jolly Green Giant outfit. The only thing missing was an Elvis impersonator.

Oh, Lord. Spoke too soon.

The final contestant was a hilariously lame ersatz Elvis who answered the emcee’s questions with Presley song titles.

“How you feeling today, Elvis?”

“All shook up.”

You get the idea.

What did he look like? Four words: Barney Fife, white jumpsuit.

The eaters took their places behind their plates and got ready to (gut)rumble when one of their number began dry heaving and begging for water.

“Can’t do it,” he huffed, and climbed down off the stage.

A quick plea was made to the four former champs: Can one of you guys fill in?

Schneewind obliged, the contest commenced, and Schneewind absolutely destroyed the field, finishing his plate in 67 seconds. A bit off his storied “world” mark but highly impressive nonetheless.

Turns out, however, the dry-heaves incident had been a set-up, a ruse to entice Schneewind to the stage for one more legendary gulpdown.

What’s your secret to killing a plate of kraut at warp speed?

“I don’t know,” he said, his $100 winnings in hand. “I’ve just always been able to eat fast.”