Caitlin Essig / Arts editor
Sweat, tears and snot poured out of all but one of the bright red faces lined up at the hot wing eating contest at the North Market “Fiery Foods Weekend.”
Two-time defending champion Steve Smallwood remained calm and focused. Wearing a plain white shirt with the word “MACHINE” in bold black letters on the front, he was exactly that.
As he finished his 21st and final wing, Smallwood stood over his plate of bone scraps, seemingly unaffected by the intense spices that sent all the other competitors running for water, and raised his hands in victory for the third consecutive year.
Smallwood is one of the members of a small community known to some as “chili heads,” many of whom made it to Columbus for the annual “Fiery Foods Weekend.”
Eating contest emcee Ken Alexander said the close-knit community had a great weekend in Columbus.
“It’s been a great show,” he said. “It’s a good city that has been very hospitable for the chili head and hot sauce community.”
Smallwood, who also won his third consecutive spicy cornbread-eating crown, said eating spicy food is just part of his everyday life.
“That is why I quit eating cereal, because I can’t put hot sauce on it,” said Smallwood, a native of Seven Mile, Ohio, a village about 40 minutes north of Cincinnati.
In addition to the hot wing and cornbread-eating contests, the festival was also home to jalapeno, spicy popcorn ball and spicy meatball-eating contests.
Just the smell of the spices was enough to make your nose run and your eyes swell. Salsa judge and Social Media Director for CaJohns Fiery Foods Co. Doc Cordray said, “No, I’m not stupid,” when asked if he would ever consider competing in any of the spicy food-eating contests.
For guys like Smallwood, the strategy is simple: “Just keep eating.”
Smallwood said he would be back to defend his title as long as he can.
“I am going to lose eventually,” he said, “but I am going to keep going until I do.”
The North Market Fiery Foods Festival was held Saturday and Sunday at the North Market, located at 59 Spruce St.