Yeah, alright, fine.
Other websites, blogs and such got a chance to hang with Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco first, and long, before we ever did but...hey, the Tucson Homeskillet is still up and coming and barely a year old so we a bit slow on the take sometimes. Plus we've been busy with a full time job and other life bits. And so has she. We've been busy I tell you! So let's just get to it and have some fun shall we?
Michelle Lesco, among other things, is a competitive eater, meaning she eats a lot of food in a short amount of time for glory, fame and, occasionally, some prize money. It's not the most glamorous sport, competitive eating, but it's the only one we really follow and are a fan of so getting a chance to meet and chat with her was a big deal on our end.
Originally from California, Michelle has been calling Tucson her home for many years and is the city where she began her rise to notoriety and power in the competitive eating circuit. Just a little over 100 lbs and barely in her 30's, Michelle is now ranked 7th in the world of competitive eating and came in 4th in her division at the renown Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition. How awesome is that?
So you can see why we were stoked to hang out and get to know this lady.
|Tucson's own Major League Eater, Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco|
Michelle, having just gotten back from Las Vegas to compete in the Hooter's Hot Wing Eating Competition, sat down with us at one of her (and our!) favorite spots, Boca Tacos Y Tequila, to enjoy chef Maria's amazing creations while we discuss how she devours all that food in so little time, why she does it in the first place and what the meaning is behind her silly nickname, "Cardboard Shell".
It was a very warm (no, it was a crazy hot and muggy) afternoon when we met up and we were so ready to dive into some cold beers, delicious food and make a new friend while doing it.
Here's the snag though: This interview was like way longer than you are about to read because the lame voice recorder app on our phone cut out here and there making it splinter in conversation. Plus we didn't take a ton of photos because we were having too much fun just chatting and eating Boca Balls, Macho Tacos and the Wednesday "Exotic" feature which was lambs tongue served on, well...most things.
So that said, here's (most of) the topics we discussed while eating and drinking and you will soon see why Michelle is now one of the best things about being a food fan, and food blogger, here in Tucson.
Check it out...
|Yes, there is a federation for competitive eating...why wouldn't there be?|
Metal Mark: So when did you realize that you could eat like this and go pro?
Cardboard Shell: I'd say it was around 2009 or so. It was back when "Man VS. Food" was really popular and the host came to Tucson to eat the Lindy's OMFG burger and two of my guy friends that were in a band and living in Phoenix kept saying 'We have to eat this burger!' when they came to town. Well when they did and we finally got to Lindy's they totally chickened out. I was like, 'What? That's the whole reason we're here! To eat this burger!' Eventually one of them looked at me and was all 'Why don't you eat it then?' And I said 'Fine I will.' So we ordered the burger and the second it gets dropped on the table I immediately start eating it. I thought that the 30 minutes or so you have to eat it began when its placed in front of you. My friends kept saying 'You should let it cool down first!' It was too late at that point. What sucks is that when the burger is that hot it continues to steam when its in your stomach. So what was really difficult was not only all that meat and all the stuff on it...it was the gas that was being created by the steam. But I finished it, of course I finished it, but it took me forever. After that my friends called me when there was any kind of food or eating challenge.
Eventually this lead to the Something Sweet food challenge, when that existed.
MM: Oh yeah, I miss that place. What was the challenge again?
CS: Four pieces of cheesecake, four big ol' brownies, four scoops of ice cream with chocolate and whipped cream and cherries on top. So I was driving home and my friend calls me saying they were at Something Sweet and they wanted me to do this challenge that, apparently, no one had finished. And I said 'So are you telling me you want me to go there and do it now?' I was going to go home and eat a salad, that was my plan that night.
MM: Man, the brain freeze must of sucked. From the dessert challenge I mean, not the salad.
CS: No. It wasn't that bad. You had, I think, 30 minutes to do it and I did it in like 15. After that I just started to do more and more eating challenges.
|If you get interviewed by the Tucson Homeskillet, beers are usually involved|
MM: So how do you train or prepare for a big eating competition?
CS: I don't really. When I was a kid I always tried to eat more and eat faster than my brothers. It was just a kind of competition between us. Like when we'd get fast food we always tried to see who could eat the burger in the fewest amount of bites...
MM: Kind of like John Belushi in Animal House?
CS: Exactly. I remember this slumber party we had which soon developed, or devolved, into a pizza eating competition. I was 8 and I remember eating this piece of pizza so fast that it got caught in my throat and I threw up all over the place. After that I just learned how to control my chewing and swallowing so that wouldn't happen again. It never really did. After that I just got really good at eating fast and eating a lot. Now I just do it on a bigger level.
Best part is I get to travel and eat free food. And the other competitive eaters are awesome. We're all good friends now.
|Michelle dominating the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition (picture is from the internet, I did not take this)|
MM: During high school I skateboarded a lot and when we would stop for a bite I had to kind of do the same thing, eat as much as possible and as fast as possible, so my friends wouldn't nab my vittles.
CS: You should think about going into competitive eating!
MM: Yeah, as if I'm not chubby enough.
CS: You should. It'd be fun.
MM: So what are your personal bests as far as eating records go?
CS: Let's see. I've eaten 135 marshmallow peeps in 5 minutes. 6 and a half pounds of pasta in 8 minutes. 170 gyoza in 10 minutes. 435 oysters in 8 minutes. Over a gallon of chili in 6 minutes. Almost 11 pounds of pie in 8 minutes. 59 tacos in 8 minutes. Over 150 wings in 10 minutes and, of course, 28.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
MM: Wow. And how do you feel after a competition?
CS: Fine. In fact after Nathan's I went on one of the big roller coasters with some of the other eaters.
MM: No full reversal?
CS: Nope. Never. Not since that slumber party.
|Eating lambs tongue tacos and talking about, well...eating|
MM: So how did the nickname 'Cardboard Shell' come about?
CS: According to Crazy Legs Conti, when I order takeout, all that is left is the cardboard shell. Funny thing is, it has been dubbed the worst nickname in competitive eating! Probably because it started unrelated to competitive eating. Sort of a spinoff of a Jack Handey quote.
MM: 'Deep Thoughts' Jack Handey?
CS: Yep. Something about he stepped on a snail and thought that he's like a snail because he builds a shell around himself, but it's made of foil and paper bags. Not cardboard.
MM: Ah. So you mentioned traveling earlier. Outside of Coney Island, where else are you traveling to this year?
CS: Well I just got back from Las Vegas for the Hooter's wing eating competition and I'll be traveling again, soon, to Northern Ireland to compete against the decade long world record holder of oysters, Colin "The Oyster King" Shirlow, for the Hillsborough International Festival World Oyster Eating Championship. Colin set the world record at 233 oysters in 3 minutes back in 2005. Last year I pushed him to a new record of 235, the first time in a decade, because he looked up and saw how fast I was going and he just had to 'speed up'. I ate 213. I stumbled and fumbled some oysters in the first 20 seconds before getting it together. In a 3 minute contest, where you are eating more that 1 per second...that makes a huge difference.
MM: Wow. And...how much do you weigh?
CS: I'm like, almost, 115 right now.
MM: I am, almost, two of you.
|Macking hard on some ribs (again, I did not take this photo)|
MM: I know you make a little money being a competitive eater, but unless you're Joey Chestnut who has like mass endorsements, I'm assuming you have a day job.
CS: Oh yeah. I work at Pantano High School as a math, physics and service learning teacher. It's a credit recovery alternative school for students that have fallen behind on credit hours and can't graduate on time at traditional schools. We provide additional support to help them graduate.
Every year I tie my training goals into fundraising goals and we've raised over $13,000 for various causes, mostly focused on impacting the global water crisis through charity water campaigns. Right now I'm hoping to help a local Tucson based nonprofit by a man who grew up in Ghana called Global Children's Fund reach their goal of $1000 to repair four water wells in a Ghana community where they are helping to improve education through a variety of means.
MM: That's awesome. I work in a library to support my food blogging habit.
CS: Cool. Yeah the principal of my school is very supportive and understanding of what I do. A lot of my students are big fans of mine and love that I do competitive eating. Even though some of them find it pretty gross.
MM: Well, if you think about it...it is kinda gross.
CS: Yeah. It is. But I love it.
MM: Me too. I listen to Metal so people gorging on meat products is just an album cover to me.
CS: And here we are eating balls and lambs tongue.
MM: So Metal.
|Michelle doing what she does best...and locally too|
MM: So do you have any advice for kids that may want to become a competitive eater?
CS: Um...don't! No, actually if you want to be in any kind of competitive sport, I suggest going into something that you can really fall back on. Think football or being a triathelete, because when you are training for these sports you will be taking in a ton of food calories. All that muscle build up and calorie burning will only make you a better eater down the line. Unless, of course, you're a force of nature like I am.
MM: It's true. Long gone are the days of tubby guys eating a pie or two. Ever since Kobayashi came around it's been little thin people taking the crown. It has to do with metabolism.
CS: It's sort of an art form isn't it?
MM: It is.
CS: And people always think that I am not a cheap date, like they have to order 12 steaks to fill me up. That's just not true. I love to eat just as much as the rest of us but I just happen to eat more because I am an athlete. A food athlete. Like we're sitting here eating these tacos, and they are delicious tacos, and I could easily eat more but at the same time I just want to enjoy the taste. When you are in competition, you don't taste the food. At all. In fact, you're just kind of drinking a lot of liquid to act as a sort of waterslide for the food you are taking in. Then your body just takes care of the rest.
MM: Before a competition do you eat any form of breakfast or anything?
CS: No. You don't need that. In fact that is just more food weight your stomach has to deal with. Like when I challenged this guy to eat the Navy SEAL burger at Trident he told me he ate a huge breakfast to stretch his stomach and he didn't even finish the thing. Really I just eat a lot of fruits and vegetables before a competition because it helps flush out all of the undigested stuff out of your system and you have more room to take in more food.
MM: I like fruits and vegetables.
CS: I seriously think you should try competitive eating.
MM: Well there is this 5 pound burrito challenge at this taqueria on 1st Avenue. I was always curious about doing that.
CS: You should! When?
MM: Probably when my wife is out of town and I have the next day free to just lay on the floor and wallow in regret.
CS: Well let me know when you want to do it and I'll be there.
MM: Do you want another taco?
|Tucson's champion eater! (nope, didn't take this pic either)|
After about an hour or so of just talking about our weird food obsessions, why we love our bizarre hobbies and being proud to be living in Tucson, the first US city to be recognized as a gastronomy destination, it was time to pack it in and head back out.
This probably wont be the last time Michelle is going to be on the Tucson Homeskillet. If we do that burrito challenge, or anything else to keep Metal Mark from being "not slim", you know we'll dictate it all and throw it on the site.
But for now we were just glad to get to know this amazing woman, a true athlete in our eyes, and a kind heart for all she does in education and charity. That alone should be enough for all of the attention she has been getting lately.
That and the fact that she eventually took down the Lindy's OMFG burger in just over 2 minutes.
It took Metal Mark almost 15 minutes to devour the OMFG's little brother, the Hooligan, and he did almost have a full reversal after. Almost.
Oh man. We have some training to do.
Thanks everyone for reading. And thank you Michelle for being a part of the Tucson Homeskillet. We'll let you know about that 5 lbs burrito thingy. But we may need a ride home after.
To the emergency ward.
|Michelle is pumped up and ready for the next big food challenge|
Camera, Typing and Some Uploads
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late July 2016