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From fandom to Nathan's

By editorial assistant Sandi Toxic

Posted January 27, 2014
hot dog self-portrait
A dream come true: Val's no stranger to hot dogs. © Val Bromann

Competitive eating superfan Val Bromann talks to the R&H about winning through to the greatest gurgitatory battle of them all.

If there are three things we love at the Rake & Herald, it's travel, creative talent and competitive eating.

In this we are clearly not alone as anyone who has read Val Bromann's excellent blog Choosing Figs will be more than aware.

A long-time fan of the greatest sport on Earth, Val has travelled extensively across the States and the globe, photographing the world's greatest gurgitators in action since at least 2007, even shoving a fair few cupcakes down her craw against the likes of Tim 'Eater X' Janus, Tim 'Gravy' Brown and Aaron 'A-Train' Osthoff at the Isle Waterloo World Cupcake Eating Championship in 20111 to boot.

Moreover, this past December 14 she swapped her camera for a Nathan's T-shirt and a shedload of calories when she headed down to Bally's Casino in Tunica, Mississippi to compete in the first qualifier of the 2014 Nathan's campaign, promptly boshing 5.75 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to land a place at the Women's Final in Noi Yoik's Coney Island this coming July 4.

Admittedly, her gob count may not have been the highest in the contest's history, but as fellow fans who would give our hind teeth to compete at the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest we were bloody well chuffed for her.

val bromann wins nathan's qualifier
She's off to Nathan's: Val savours success in Tunica. © Val Bromann

"I've been travelling the world for the past two and a half years," Val, who recently turned 33 (many happy returns, by the way), exclusively facebookerises the Rake & Herald, noting that she even managed to watch two Major League Eating- (MLE) sanctioned wonton eating contests while in Thailand.

Indeed, since packing in her day job for a backpack in 2011, she has now covered more miles than an unsuspecting tourist in the back of Rake & Herald fashion editor and self-appointed competitive eating pundit Kok Wang's London cab, travelling extensively throughout Europe, Latin America and Asia and not just round and round the M25 as Kok likes to take 'em.

As such, the two months prior to the qualifier saw her making her way across the Emerald Isle and Blighty, a trip that included a stop-off in that Rake bloke's old local, the fantastic Pride of Spitalfields in London's East End, cor blimey, guv'nor!

"I was in Ireland and England and just got back to the US a week before the contest," Val continues.

"I was having a run of bad luck since leaving for Ireland," she says, revealing that among other things she ended up getting her laptop and credit card twocked by some nasty little tea leaf, "so it felt amazing to return home, get to Tunica and secure my spot at Coney."

"I feel like my luck is finally turning around."

Too bloody right.

Hey, it's amazing what a few pints down the Pride can do.

Anyway, given that she has regularly attended and photographed the Nathan's gobathon of gobathons, how does it feel to have now earned a seat alongside the Rake & Herald's all-time favourite alimentary athlete and three-times reigning Nathan's queen Sonya 'the Black Widow' Thomas?

"I don't even think my name should be mentioned in the same sentence as the Black Widow!" Val says.

"She is amazing and there are so many other amazing female eaters on the scene today."

"I'm just lucky that none of them were in Tunica."

"I've been following competitive eating for years as a superfan and photographer but I never really thought about competing."

"I'm a much better photographer than I am an eater."

"But ever since they separated the hot dog eating contest into men's and women's divisions I've dreamed of getting up there on the Fourth of July."

"It will be an honour to just be on stage."

So how does Val rate her performance in Tunica and had she been able to get any practice in while zipping around our little neck of the woods?

"I did about how I thought I'd do in the qualifier," she replies.

"I had hoped to make it to 10 but knew that was a lofty goal."

"I was expecting to eat about five and managed to just sneak past that number."

"I was planning on trying to qualify but thought I would have until June to get ready."

"But when I heard about this contest in Tunica, and knew I'd be back in the States for it, I jumped at the chance."

"So I didn't have any time to train."

"I just lucked out that I was the only woman competing, so I kind of won by default."

"My biggest goal was to not puke."

val in action in thailand
Chiang Mai chowdown: Val takes 'em on in the tropics. © Val Bromann

Aside from fighting back the urge to reverse, did she enjoy the contest and, what's more, how did it compare to the July 4 hot dog gobbling contest she organised in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2012?

"I enjoyed the contest before, after and for the first eight minutes," she says, adding that "the last two minutes were tough".

"I could have pushed myself to eat more but at that point I knew I couldn't make it to 10 anyways, so I just wanted to make sure I kept everything down."

"I kept laughing throughout because [emcee Sam Barclay] kept announcing how I was in the lead over all the other women."

"It was fun."

"The hot dog eating contest I had organised in Thailand was so different."

"Instead of timing it, we just made two hot dogs for everyone involved to see who could eat them the fastest."

"What no one realised beforehand was that there was a weird plastic wrap around [the dogs] that should have been removed."

"There were three Americans and we all lost to an Australian, who just powered through and ate the plastic."

Aussies, eh?


So uncouth.

And no, I'm not sore about them winning the Ashes either.

After all, we let them win because we felt sorry for them.


But enough of the cricket and back to the dog chobbling.

Are we right in assuming that Val'll be giving the wanderlust and jetlag a break for a bit, travelling nowhere other than to Coney Island come July?

You bet your bollocks!

"I will definitely be at Surf and Stillwell come July 4," she affirms.

"I'm going to try to do some more training between now and then but I am sure I will come in dead last."

"It's just an honour and a dream to be up on that big stage with some of my heroes of competitive eating."

Fair play, ma'am.

We raise our glasses to you!

If you haven't yet checked out Val's Choosing Figs blogsite, do so right this minute by giving this a click. And if you have, then click it again anyway 'cos it's well worth a read for sure. Massive thanks for your answers, Val, and all power to you for the Fourth! In the meantime, here's some hot steamy footage of the 2012 Deejai Backpackers First Annual Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Chiang Mai, embedded here on the Rake & Herald from Val's travel-tastic YouTube channel. Get on!

See also Hot dogs, cold shrimps, posted 18/12/13.


1) Eater X won the cupcake chowdown with a gut haul of 42 in 8 minutes (the then word record), followed by Gravy (37) and A-Train (35.5). Val was credited with 7, although photographic evidence suggests she may well have scoffed 9 or thereabouts. Anyway, for the record, here are the full results from the MLE website:

1) Tim 'Eater X' Janus (42 cupcakes in 8 minutes; $1,500 (£910);

2) Tim 'Gravy' Brown (37; $1,250);

3) Aaron 'A-Train' Osthoff (35.5; $1,000);

4) Jake 'the Great Lake' Larry (29; $750);

=5) Ben Taylor (20; $250);

=5) Gary Klucken (20; $250);

7) Andrew 'Local Hero' McCormick (18);

8) Andrew 'the Bear' Kogutkiewicz (13.5); and

9) Val Bromann (7).

Two Andrews and two Tims in the same MLE-sanctioned event. Is that a new record or what? Well, to be honest, we don't actually know but our money says OJ Rifkin over at Eat Feats does. And on that note, big congrats, OJ, on eight years of the Eat Feats database. It's bloody excellent. Please keep the good work up. We think you're ace!

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