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The 6 Toughest Eating Challenges in St. Louis and One Foolish Man's Attempt to Beat Them All


inferno_delish.jpeg
The Inferno | Zach Garrison

The Inferno
$16.50
de.lish Cheesecake Bakery & Cafe
(1060 Rue Saint Catherine, Florissant; 314-831-7400)

The Inferno Challenge is downright scary, and here's why -- the inclusion of the infamous "Three Horsemen": the Trinidad Scorpion pepper (which Guinness Book of World Records lists as the hottest pepper in the world), the ghost pepper (second hottest pepper) and the habanero. By itself, the regular "Inferno" (a foot-long, twelve-ounce top-sirloin sandwich served with jalapeños, pepper-jack cheese, homemade Cajun sauce and fried onions on toasted French bread) sounds delicious. But the addition of the "Three Horsemen" transforms the sandwich completely. Owner and chef Jeff Mullersman personally grinds the peppers into a fine dust before adding it to a remoulade that coats the sirloin. Server Mark Muehling once sampled the sauce so that he could describe the intensity to customers. He placed a tiny dab on his tongue and then did not stop sweating for ten minutes.

Add to that the requirement that after the first bite, I had to wait one full, agonizing minute before taking a drink. (A beverage is permitted, with the exception of milk -- Mullersman explains that mixing dairy with the peppers pretty much guarantees that I'll puke.) There's no leaving the table, the plate must be clean and a 30-minute time limit is in place. This challenge is so intense that I had to first sign a waiver and wear a pair of latex gloves to protect my skin. Mullersman warned me that only 3 challengers out of more than 50 have ever won. The rest ended up on the wall of shame.

Before starting, I rubbed lip balm all around my mouth, thinking that this might help prevent burning. I love spicy food and felt relatively confident that as long as I ate quickly, with a pitcher of water close at hand, this would be a piece of cake.

The sandwich looked amazing -- thick slices of meat with sauce covering every inch...but looks can be deceiving. The first bite was no biggie, and I felt fine as I sat there for the required one minute. But after about five bites came the ultimate sucker punch: A blast of heat ignited on my lips and spread down my throat. It was so intense that my nose felt as if it were literally on fire. (I might have been hallucinating.) Sweat cascaded down my forehead. My hands shook uncontrollably and my eyes watered. A nearby patron showed real concern for my health.

Not surprisingly, the challenge ended after eleven minutes and almost half the sandwich eaten. Mullersman commented that my performance was "slightly above average," though I think he mostly pitied me. I drank more than two pitchers of water and a bottle of Sprite before Mullersman instructed me to pour sugar into the water. Only then did the heat begin to subside. True relief, though, came only after eating one of the most superb slices of chocolate cheesecake I've ever tasted. But this was far from the end of my struggles.

Aftermath: From the moment I threw in the towel, my insides began to protest such foolish behavior. For the next 24 hours, general anarchy broke out in my digestive system. My stomach was wracked by waves of pain and sharp convulsions -- just breathing proved difficult (I assume this is as close as I will ever come to being in labor). But the absolute worst part was that as bad as it burned going in, it was far, far worse coming out. I cut a clear path between my bedroom and the bathroom, so frequent were my trips. The mix of nausea and acid reflux had me briefly considering a ride to the emergency room, but instead I curled up in a ball, gently rocking back and forth, and weathered the storm.

Difficulty: +++++
Fire consumes all.

Conclusions

Sheer hubris allowed me to believe I could conquer my list of food challenges. I began this journey believing it would be a success story. But this is a story about failure. Every challenge far exceeded my expectations and concluded with me sitting in agony, wondering why the hell I'd agreed to do this. A few days later I would rally, as if my hours spent in the bathroom and days of bloated discomfort would not be repeated. But the result was always the same.

Rather than glory, all I got out of this was thousands and thousands of calories. Though I spread the six challenges out across a five-week time period, the effects carried over and built as I went along. After the final challenge, I just felt unhealthy. I haven't gained weight, nor can I point to any other quantifiable measurement, but something was just off -- enough so that I will never undertake such an idiotic mission ever again...probably.

Although I went in thinking I was a man of enormous appetite, it turns out I was just an average eater, faced with daunting odds and the likelihood of permanent intestinal damage. I'd like to think my journey, my sacrifice, will serve as a warning, a lesson in the dangers of such gluttonous behavior. But I doubt it. Instead, I suspect that many will read this and immediately conclude, "I could take down that challenge. Sign me up."
But even if you manage to beat the challenge, here's what my hours of agony taught me: The food always wins.

Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. Email us!




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38 comments
TripleRPhotography
TripleRPhotography

How does the Inferno compare to the level 100 bowl at the Pearl Cafe? I'm working on my second King of Spice (next is level 50 again) just so I can get the black t-shirt. I got paint on my white one. I'd never try to eat volume, but I do love the spice!

Chris M. Jessen
Chris M. Jessen

I would like to see a restaurant offer a different kind of eating challenge... one where you eat a reasonable portion and then place a few dollars on a "gift card" for the homeless, to be redeemed at any number of downtown restaurants for food.

Tania Novak
Tania Novak

With all the hungry people in the world and the overwhelming amount on food stamps, I think man vs food or any eating competion is just plain wasteful. We need to do something a little more constructive with our time.

David Jones
David Jones

LOL Sounds like our run in with ghost chilis Jon Hiltz... I still want to try it though lol

Jon Hiltz
Jon Hiltz

David Jones check out the last one

Adam Usher
Adam Usher

What about Pearl Cafe's eating challenge?

Andrew Stapleton
Andrew Stapleton

Ha. I think I laughed after reading every challenge. Ready to try them myself.

Charlie Hasseldiek
Charlie Hasseldiek

Josh Call ten Braun I didn't read it but it sounds like your bag...baby

estielmo
estielmo

Personally, I think food challenges are weird, but that's just me. I had the good fortune to work at Pointers for a couple years and observed the Pointersaurus Challenge a few times. You could never tell from physique how well they would do.
The one thing I always noted that beyond the gluttony factor of the challenge the pie itself is an impressive thing to behold. It was always a joy to me to see the eyes of the people in an office or school when I walked in the door. It is a party pizza beyond compare!

Randall Santel
Randall Santel

I have completed the important 4. I only do spicy challenges for money and even then I don't like them. & the reuben & burger one is just really small Chris Haggard. That's a good article though!! He should have at least done a little research before attempting them. He just needs Foodchallenges.com which will be live in April!

Chris Haggard
Chris Haggard

Randall Santel have you completed all of these?

AJ Purdy
AJ Purdy

need to tell him to come to stony hill missouri and try our burger challenge

Robert Clyburn
Robert Clyburn

I have attempted a couple of these. Reading his experience made me laugh and wince all at once.

Scott Plackemeier
Scott Plackemeier

They all sound like mild torture to be honest. And I think the last one violates the Geneva Convention.

Sharon Johnson
Sharon Johnson

Well, you are a brave guy. And this will help me in my future trip to St. Louis to know where to dine. The Whistle Stop is surely on my agenda.

Elli Snyder
Elli Snyder

I might have tried this when I was younger and dumber. I once won an ice cream eating contest.

1234
1234

meanwhile, in places of the world where people are starving to death............

bridgework125
bridgework125

So…how much have YOU donated to feeding the homeless, lately?  Or, are you just making yourself "appear" to be compassionate; making yourself "feel" better with your intentions?  Lead by example, my friend.

bridgework125
bridgework125

You take the lead, Tania.  Tell us what you've done to feed the hungry people in the world.  Be specific.

jeffamullersman
jeffamullersman

I've taken Pearl Cafes Challenge and passed level 25. That place is awesome. Food is amazing!

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