Takeru Kobayashi, a professional competitive eater, is an international star. Many regard him as a legend in professional competitive eating, who put the sport on the map.
Through this quick Q&A, he gave a glimpse of his life as a professional competitive eater. Needless to say, there were a lot of surprises.
At the opening of History Con 2017, Speed had a one-on-one interview with Kobayashi. With us during the conversation was his manager, translator, and wife, Maggie James. We talked about his training process, favorite food, halo-halo, eat-all-you-can buffets, possible retirement, and attempting to break world records while in the Philippines.
On Saturday at History Con 2017, Kobayashi will try to break the world record on burger eating. On Sunday, he will take on pizzas.
History Con 2017 runs from August 10-13, 2017, at the World Trade Center in Pasay.
How did you get started in professional eating competitions?
Takeru Kobayashi: I was a student in college and I went into a restaurant with my friends and I tried a noodle challenge in there. I won it. Nobody succeeded in eating it but me. One of them sent a letter to a TV network and the TV network asked me to compete on their eating show. I won it and the TV network took me to the U.S. [for a] hotdog eating competition.
What were you eating in Japan?
TK: Many things. Sushi, noodles, rice balls, steamed potatoes, curry rice–so many things.
How do you train for that?
TK: Just drinking lots of water to stretch my stomach.
With all the food that you’re eating, how do you not feel full?
Maggie James: (translates Kobayashi’s answer) It’s not that he doesn’t [get] full. He does. But after competing for this long, he has broken the nerve, so he doesn’t feel hungry and he doesn’t feel full. It’s not that he doesn’t get full but he has lost that sensation.
How much do you eat normally if you don’t feel that you’re already full?
TK: I just eat like a normal person and I just stop myself.
MJ: Sometimes I eat more than him when we’re eating together and I feel quite embarrassed because he says to me, “Wow, you eat so much.” And I’m thinking, “This is absurd.”
When do you think would you stop competing?
TK: I’m not sure but soon, I think, because I’m getting old. I’ve been doing this for more than 16 years.
Would you want to compete in the Philippines?
TK: It would be great.
Do competitions have to invite you to join?
MJ: He is only involved in the most heavyweight competitions because nobody wants to see him against amateurs. It’s not fun. It’s also not fair. It’s not fun to watch that. He’s only in the very very big stages and there are only a few of that kind. But he does go and do demonstrations and solo eating records a lot in many countries.
Now we’re in the Philippines and he’s going to set a record here.
What food was the hardest for you to compete in?
TK: Cow brains. I won the competition but it was awful.
How much cow brains did you eat?
TK: About 70 pounds for a TV show (The Glutton Bowl).
What’s the most delicious food you’ve eaten at competitions?
TK: I try not to taste the food when I’m in competitions
MJ: When you eat normally, you really enjoy eating.
TK: Yeah, I love savoring food.
What do you love eating?
TK: Many things. I love sushi, bubble teas.
MJ: You have trends. Sometimes you like something a lot.
What’s the trend now?
TK: I tried halo-halo. That was my favorite.
MJ: You want to eat it again.
Do you cook?
MJ: But you always steam vegetables and grill meats. That’s your thing. (turns to Speed) I go to his house and open his refrigerator. It’s [filled with] meat, fish, and vegetables. And that’s it. Oh, and yogurt.
TJ: Yes, I love yogurt.
MJ: I’m a healthy eater but when I see his refrigerator it makes me feel almost embarrassed. But maybe that’s the counterbalance to doing something so destructive to his body. He’s an anatomy geek. He’s obsessed with the body all the time, about being fit and being healthy, which is really strange because on the flip side, he is doing something that’s grotesque. But maybe that’s why he’s so good at it.
Do you go to eat-all-you-can buffets?
TK: I’m shy. If I’m at an all-you-can-eat buffet and everybody watches me eating, I won’t be comfortable.
Would you come back to the Philippines for a vacation?
TK: Of course.