It is very rare for a man to face a challenge that pushes him to both his mental and physical limits.
On Saturday afternoon, the Taste of the Kingsway’s first annual Fish and Chips Eating Contest at Bloor Street West and Montgomery Road presented such an endeavour.
Six contestants, including your intrepid reporter, battled to see who could ingest the greatest quantity of halibut and fried potatoes, only to find the competition was more complex than originally anticipated.
The first curveball was delivered the moment before the contestants were called to the stage.
“Remember, you will be marked on your etiquette.”
One sentence rendered any strategic preparations made prior to the event obsolete, as we were asked to change our approach and consume the mountainous portion of fish and chips in a manner fit for our grandmothers’ tables.
After a brief round of introductions, we took our seats, launching into our meals with a restrained vigour. Initially, morale was high. There was hope that this could be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
That hope died after the first serving.
“As I was eating, the first fish went down really smooth. I was like ‘man this is super fun,’” said eventual champion Nigel Downer. “But then they threw on the second one and I was thinking ‘nah, can’t do it. Fish is great, but I just can’t do it.’ ”
With one plate down, the event organizers threw another twist at us with no regard for our aching stomachs.
Realizing the limited entertainment value of six people eating fish and chips as politely as humanly possible, they instructed us to relinquish our cutlery and go at it with our hands.
Complying with our cruel overlords, we began to shovel fistful after fistful of fried goodness into our bodies.
It takes a special kind of strength to reach for another handful of fries when your body feels as if it is jam-packed with drying cement and each and every participant demonstrated that strength in spades.
What followed was a blur of oil, batter and tartar sauce until the event was mercifully called to an end with Kingsway native Downer taking home the crown, in addition to $250 in prize money, and a $250 charitable donation in his name to the Out of the Cold program.
The Second City performer accepted his victory with a bow and the kind of exclamation you don’t hear every day.
“I want to thank the people for empowering me and giving me the ability to eat so much fish!”
When it was all said and done, Gary Blokhuis, a co-owner of Kingsway Fish and Chips, the restaurant that donated the food for the contest, estimated that approximately $150-$200 of fish and chips had been consumed in the competition.
As far as Blokhuis is concerned, the total represents a drop in the bucket for the restaurant.
Kingsway Fish and Chips has been open since 1971 and is described by its owner as a “bloody institution” in the area. He sees the contest as just another way to bring notoriety to the neighbourhood.
“Anything that promotes the Kingsway helps all of us,” he said.
Despite his successful performance, Downer revealed that the harrowing experience made him yearn to retire from competitive eating.
“I feel gross,” he said with a laugh. “I feel so full. I could never competitive eat again. That’s how I feel.”
As for fish and chips, the improv artist feels that he will be taking a holiday from the English pub staple.
“I believe I don’t have to have to come back here for another year,” he said. “So it’s going to be 365 days. For sure.”