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July 31, 2014

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Food and Drink:

The man who considers 16 scoops of ice cream an appetizer

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Ed Komenda

Ryan Rodacker, a 36-year-old professional eater from Portland, is known in the eating community as “Max Carnage.”

"Max Carnage"

Ryan Rodacker, a 36-year-old professional eater from Oregon, is known in the eating community as "Max Carnage." Founder of "The Eater's Club," Rodacker recently traveled to Las Vegas for a five-day trip, during which he crushed three food challenges along the Strip. Then he stumbled into Windy City Beefs-N-Pizza and crumbled under the weight of the Sears Tower Challenge: a 7.2-pound Italian beef and sausage sandwich drenched with hot peppers and au jus sauce.

Ryan Rodacker doesn’t want a chair.

The professional eater from Portland prefers to stand and wait for the beast to lurch out of the kitchen. Plus, any pro will tell you it’s easier to slay beasts standing up.

It’s Thursday afternoon at Windy City Beefs-N-Pizza in Las Vegas, and Rodacker — a 36-year-old 200-pounder known in some circles as “Max Carnage” — psyches himself up by thinking about the busy week he just put in.

After arriving in Las Vegas on Monday, he headed straight for the Sugar Factory, where he slammed down the shop’s 16-scoop ice cream sundae.

“Crushed it in seven minutes,” Rodacker says.

Just a few hours later, he rolled to the Heart Attack Grill, where he ordered a Quadruple Bypass Burger, an 8,000-calorie, four-patty sandwich topped with tomatoes, onions, special sauce and eight slices of cheese — a 5-pound feast.

“I added chili,” he says. “I beat it.”

Feeling good and far from full the next day, Rodacker headed to Sonio’s Café and signed up for the “Get Beefed” challenge.

The goal? Finish the equivalent of four Chicago-style Italian beef and sausage combo sandwiches on a bed of Greek fries - 10 pounds of food - in less than 30 minutes. The sandwiches are doused with hot peppers.

Rodacker was a bit surprised by the spice of the peppers. He had never eaten them before.

Ultimately, they got the better of him. Rodacker couldn't finish the challenge in time.

“Why do I do this?” Rodacker asks aloud. “Fun, fame and fortune.”

To Rodacker, fame is his picture on a wall.

And fortune? It is usually nothing more than a free meal.

In the kitchen of Windy City Beefs-N-Pizza, Tim Korney puts the finishing touches on the Sears Tower Challenge: 2 pounds of Italian bread stuffed with 5 pounds of sliced Italian beef and Italian sausage, and a bag of fries.

Rodacker must finish it in less than 30 minutes. There have been eight attempts at the challenge, and everyone failed.

The kitchen staff is silent as Korney, a transplant from Chicago’s north side, dumps au jus sauce and hot peppers over the beef.

The beast of a sandwich is so large, no human could eat it like a regular PB and J. Rodacker says he doesn’t plan to try. He'll pull it apart to chow it down faster.

When Korney brings out the sandwich, everyone looks up from lunches and stares. You’d swear Sammy Sosa just walked in to order a Chicago dog and Green River Soda, or the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson floated by.

When Korney sets the beast on the table, Rodacker hams it up.

“Take all the pictures you want,” he says, posing. “Look at this thing.”

Rodacker carries the plate around the restaurant. The crowd murmurs. Korney, smiling, suggests that an old-timer in the back take a crack at it.

“No way,” the man says. “I’m too smart.”

Now Rodacker is jumping up and down, listening to a secret mix of music blasting into his ears through headphones. He’s ready.

Korney flips the timer — and we’re off.

Rodacker starts with the fries. He dunks handfuls into a pitcher of water and stuffs the mush in his mouth. The water helps the food go down.

Then he grabs handfuls of beef and bread and dunks those in the water.

Two minutes into the challenge, and the sandwich doesn’t look like a sandwich anymore. It looks like slop for hogs.

But Rodacker is no hog. He recently cut 80 pounds by riding his bicycle around Portland to get into prime eating shape.

Three minutes in, Rodacker pipes up.

“Hat!” he yells. “Hat!”

A friend slips off his hat. The spice has turned his face red hot.

At six and a half minutes, Rodacker lets out a roaring belch. Then, there’s another at eight and a half. And another at 10 minutes.

Then burp failure sets in. That’s what happens when eaters drink too much water. There's no gas left to belch.

The burp failure slows Rodacker down, and the spice is too much. He orders a cheesecake bar to dull the heat.

“Eat through it,” Korney yells. “Come on, man!”

But Rodacker is in pain.

“It’s the spice,” he says.

At 26 minutes, Rodacker is groaning in pain. But he doesn’t quit, chomping away, dipping sausage in ketchup to fight flavor fatigue.

When the timer runs out, two pounds of beef and bread remain. Rodacker is too full to talk. Instead, he groans.

When he steps on the scale later that night, he learns that he gained 22 pounds in five days.

“It’ll take me two weeks to burn that off,” Rodacker says. “I’ll be back in November.”

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly stated that Ryan Rodacker beat Sonio’s Café “Get Beefed” challenge. He did not. | (May 13, 2013)

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