These speedy eaters enjoy dining leisurely too
Celebrity Chow with local competitive eaters Sarah Ow and Zermatt Neo
The same food can taste completely different when consumed under contrasting circumstances.
Just ask Sarah Ow and Zermatt Neo, both 28 and active members of Singapore's burgeoning competitive eating scene.
M met the competitive eaters for dinner at DIY-style sushi and salad joint Maki-San at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard earlier this month.
"A year back, I participated in an eating contest here," recalled Neo, a personal trainer.
"It was some spicy maki challenge that I didn't really like. But now, we are here to dine at leisure and I feel so much more relaxed."
But Ow, an air stewardess, could be making mental notes.
On Aug 6, the duo will go head-to-head wolfing down eight rolls of Maki-San sushi at the finals of Cathay Malls' first Epic Eater 2016 competition. They are the special guests of the event, which will be held at the external atrium of The Cathay from 2pm to 5pm.
"If I have an upcoming eating contest, I like to suss out the food beforehand," Ow told M.
"But I'm sure the contest's sushi rolls will be very different from what I'm having today. The ingredients won't be the ones I picked."
Neo quipped: "Everything will probably be pre-prepared and cold."
Tell us more about each of your DIY sushi rolls.
Neo: I like to keep things simple. I'm a big fan of avocado. I also have shredded cucumber, and unagi (freshwater eel) for protein.
Ow: Gosh, yours is so healthy. It's like the healthiest sushi you can get. Look at his brown rice.
Neo: Hers is the complete opposite. (Laughs)
Ow: I love my food rich. Avocado, salmon sashimi and fried tempura.
Neo: For me, during my contests, anything goes. But on normal days, I stick to a responsible diet.
Ow: I just let go. I don't care.
Has competitive eating dulled your tastebuds? Do you still enjoy food?
Neo: It's different. When you're competing, you eat with a sense of urgency. Most of the time, you're not tasting anything. If you are, you're most likely lagging behind.
Ow: The goal and mindset you have during a competition is completely different (from normal eating). It doesn't matter what you're eating.
Neo: When I'm not competing, I enjoy food a lot. I respect my food. In fact, I don't fancy processed food like hotdogs. I love hawker food, especially bak chor mee.
Ow: My favourite types of cuisine are Japanese and Italian.
Competitive eating can be rather unsightly, with all the hurried gobbling. What do you and your significant others think?
Neo: I don't have a girlfriend. Competitive eating is not pretty - it's subjective. Some people love watching it, but to those who don't, it can be a turn-off.
Ow: Lately, I don't care so much.
Neo: When Sarah first started competitive eating, she still wanted to look graceful and elegant. But I think that if you care, it kind of hinders your speed.
Ow: With the drive to win, I don't care anymore. For example, the very first time I did a hotdog eating contest, I told myself I'm never ever going to dunk the buns in water. But then I did it. I thought my face would look swollen, but everyone told me I looked okay. Anyway, my husband has seen a lot worse (laughs).
Both of you are still so slim despite being competitive eaters. Do you have two stomachs - one for contests and one for leisurely eating?
Neo: It's all about diet, discipline and exercise. I work out six days a week and do a lot of cardio. Competitive eating aside, my diet consists of steamed vegetables and steamed fish 90 per cent of the time.
Ow: Maybe I'm from a different planet. A friend told me my body has an inverse relationship with food. The more I eat, the more weight I'd lose. Also, I'm lucky that my body processes things really quickly. I go to the toilet very often.
Zermatt, you have been doing competitive eating since 2013, while Sarah just started this year. Any bad experiences so far?
Neo: Once, I did a 3.5kg buttermilk birthday cream cake challenge - 13,000 calories in all, with enough sugar to kill two diabetic patients. I felt really sick after that and I almost threw up. I spent the next two days recuperating.
Log on to www.tnp.sg to catch our exclusive video of a mini speed eating battle between Zermatt Neo and Sarah Ow. See how fast they wash down two hotdogs and a large Coke.