On a day full of sports action, from the Rangers starting their Eastern Conference Finals series agains the Tampa Bay Lighting to the Mets offense exploding for 14 runs to the Brooklyn Half Marathon cutting through south Brooklyn to American Pharaoh capturing the second leg of his Triple Crown attempt at the Preakness Stakes, perhaps the most compelling action of the day was taking place in a small back room at a humble Bed-Stuy coffee shop, as 15 competitors chewed, swallowed and shoved kolache after kolache down their throats all in an attempt to become the city’s first-ever kolache eating champion.
Ultimately, the day belonged to a semi-professional eater who won the contest due to his poise and experience, but the fact that no one at Brooklyn’s first Kolache Eating Contest threw up during or after the competition makes them all champions in some small way.
Hopeful eaters seeking to become the first champion kolache eater in the city’s history came from near and far, some of whom like Bed-Stuy resident David Wilner laid down fantastical boasts, announcing that he planned to eat “somewhere between 7 and 45″ kolaches with his ultimate goal being 60 kolaches going down the hatch. Aida Nazar, the only woman in the contest, traveled all the way from the Bronx for the contest despite having never eaten a kolache, and kept her pre-contest predictions more modest, saying that she hoped to eat 9 kolaches in the allotted 10 minutes.
Brooklyn Kolache Co.’s small back room began filling up with competitors and their entourages of well-wishers, and people just curious about what kind of regurgitory chaos eating so many kolaches could unleash. As employees put out baskets of four kolaches in front of the waiting eaters, BKC’s owner Autumn Stanford explained the rules of the contest. Whoever ate the most kolaches in 10 minutes won, to avoid making a mess competitors were barred from dunking kolaches in water to soften them up (but they could drink water) and “If you bark you have to clean it up.” Once two baskets each were put in front of the eaters, a countdown started and then the eaters were off.
Watching people eat kolaches, as it turns out, is an odd exercise, owing to the fact that the fist-sized pastries are so hefty that it’s impossible to just shove them in your mouth and swallow them whole. With dunking agains the rules, the only way for the eaters to soften the kolaches up was to take a bite and them drink water, a process that slowed things down some. Still, the crowd kept up their energy, cheering on this motley crew who chose to spend their Saturday stuffing sausage pastries in their mouths.
Aside from encouragement from the gathered crowd, the official time keeper would occasionally alert eaters to how much time was left, but even that reminder of the clock running down didn’t have a huge impact on how quickly the kolaches could be eaten. More than the other people eating around them and the ticking clock, dough, cheese and two small sausages were the biggest hurdle standing in front of these chewers and glory. Some competitors, realizing how dense the kolaches were, didn’t even attempt to win, and instead casually ate their pastries, content in the knowledge that they had at least attempted to become our kolache eating champion.
After time ran out, astonished spectators and eaters reviewed what they had just seen or experienced. Fred Hernandez, who came from Manhattan to try to win the contest, said that the strain of eating so many kolaches was such that “At the end, I couldn’t swallow anymore.” Uneaten kolaches were passed into the crowd, and as the spectators ate the leftovers, one member of the crowd summed up the afternoon perfectly as she was heard saying “Someone ate 9 of these? Jesus.”
The “someone” who ate 9 kolaches was a semi-pro competitive eater from Jamaica, Queens named Wayne Algenio. Asked how he felt after eating so many kolaches, Algenio said that the honor of being King Kolache and taking home the $150 pot “felt cool.” He also said that he was still hungry. Algenio said that while he had never eaten a kolache before that afternoon, he liked the first couple that he ate but that after the 4th one he’d got tired of the flavor.
Algenio’s winning strategy was to hold off on water for the first five minutes of the competition, but he ultimately felt like he could have eaten more if he had softened up the kolaches with water earlier. “The bread makes it hard to get these down, the no dunking rule is a game changer. It all depended on how strong your jaw was,” he said as he stood with his gold “WINNER” medal.
Algenio also said that he’d be back to defend his title as King Kolache if there’s a competition next year, and one can only imagine he’ll be honing his craft between now and then. So if you’ve got designs on the crown, start practicing now, because the world of competitive kolache eating is no place for the weak-willed or weak-jawed.