First of all, it’s impossible to eat every sample at the Summer Fancy Food Show. With more than 2,500 exhibitors displaying 180,000 products and offering samples of probably 10,000 of them, it would require a busload of hungry teenagers to consume them all. But how many samples can one hungry man eat? That was the question quench answered yesterday with our trip to New York’s Fancy Food Show.

I arrived hungry, which is how most people would arrive when visiting the largest specialty food show in North America. But I wasn’t just hungry — I was famished. After a 10-year career in competitive eating, I’ve learned how to prepare for a gastronomical challenge like this, and fasting for 24 hours prior seemed to do the trick. When the doors opened at 10 a.m., I made a beeline for the south side of the main exhibit hall, with the plan to work through the 32 aisles of exhibitors from left to right.

First stop: the American Cheese Pavilion. Was starting my day with cheese really the best idea? Maybe, maybe not, but what’s done is done.

Bleu cheese salami

Honey goat cheese

Hot pepper cheese

Pineapple rum cake

Acorn-fed pork shoulder

Cranberry pistachio crisps

Roasted pepper bruschetta

Mexican chocolate mousse

Whiskey pepper cream dip

Chili cilantro goat cheese polenta

Cappuccino cookie butter

Chocolate hazelnut spread

Tomato basil feta cheese

Romano cheese

Asiago cheese

Bruschetta with wild mushrooms

Duck bacon

Duck liver mousse with cognac

Teleme cheese

Curried apple and coconut jam

Cucumber hummus

Apple fruit cracker

Chipotle stout cheese

Jalapeño grilling cheese

French-cured Bayonne ham 

Kalamata olive crackers

Roasted red pepper goat cheese

Leaving the American Cheese Pavilion didn’t necessarily mean the end of my cheese-eating duties for the day. Far from it. There was cheese everywhere at the Fancy Food Show — goat cheese, organic cheese, spicy cheese, stinky cheese — but the diversity of samples definitely improved as I wrapped up the first hour of eating.

Chipotle tortilla chips

Habanero honey peanuts

Chili-lime popcorn

Bacon hot sauce

Horseradish mustard

NY steak chef salt

Ancient grain gluten-free muffins

Gingered gingerbread cookie

Wasabi sauce

Mango ice cream bonbon

Memphis barbecue filet mignon jerky

Organic mozzarella cheese

English shortbread cookie

Gluten-free macaroons

Some sort of fruit nut log thing

Sheep cheese

An olive

Beef salami

Smoked beef frank

A really sour lemon drink

Veggie stick

Tomato basil lentil chips

Turkish pistachio candy

Bulgarian feta cheese

Algerian dates

Vanilla espresso chocolate

Dry beer salami

Dry-cured chorizo

Italian chocolate fudge

Garlic pepper dipping mustard

Gluten- and dairy-free cookie

Ginger limeade drink

At the halfway point — two hours in — I was averaging about one sample per minute. That might not seem like a blistering pace, but when you consider the crowds I had to fight, it wasn’t bad. Also, I was consciously skipping many offerings in an attempt to add some variety to my torturous meal. After all, there are only so many mozzarella balls and turkey jerky samples a man can eat — and I did eat a lot of them.

It was also at about the two-hour mark — somewhere around the spinach ricotta Belgian waffle — that I began to feel the first signals that my body wasn’t pleased with what I was doing to it. It wasn’t fullness. My stomach was confused, and it wasn’t happy. So, I did what any good competitive eater would do: I ignored the warning signs and ate faster.

Sun-dried tomato

Banana fruit tart

Apple fruit butter

Pear fruit butter

Dark chocolate strawberry

Oak-smoked cheddar cheese

Smoked pancetta

Black truffle salami

Bison salami

Chocolate-covered blueberry

Cinnamon walnut bar

Grilled artichoke halves

Rose chai latte

Sweet potato soup

Spinach-filled naan

Peter Luger BBQ sauce meatball

Marinated white anchovies

Fig cake with almonds

Chocolate-covered fig

20 month-aged Parmesan cheese

Green olive tapenade

Artichoke bruschetta

Habanero pralines

White chocolate orange cardamom truffle

Peanut-free "peanot" butter cup

White chocolate Bing cherries

Greek yogurt strawberries

Dark chocolate absinthe cordial

Toffee almonds


Sweet heat pickles

Black Cerignola olives

Teriyaki-marinated mushroom

Pickled chipotle carrots

Basil pesto

Mozzarella ball

Blueberry muffin taffy

Chili mango taffy

Chicken & waffles taffy

Balsamic fig jam

Kahlua coffee

Sturgeon caviar

Chili-lime beef jerky

Spinach ricotta Belgian waffle

Chocolate pistachio spread

Aloe vera pieces in honey

Vitamin-infused peach iced tea

Peach salsa

Mushroom pork pâté

Crystallized ginger slice

Semisweet dark chocolate

Cheddar and chili oat nibble

Pecan cini-mini

Cocoa truffle

Two hours down, two more to go. I began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. My rate of consumption had slowed a bit as I bounced from table to table. Salty, sweet, spicy, sour. All-natural, gluten-free, dairy-free, taste-free. My notepad, which was doubling as a plate, was grease-stained and becoming increasingly difficult to write on. My feet ached, and my stomach was churning as I made the slow, sweaty trek toward the second exhibit hall.

Chocolate ice cream with fudge

Little round candy balls

Jelly Belly cake bites

Dill gherkin

Eggplant baba ghanoush


Spicy peanut butter

Key lime truffle

Butter almond toffee

Dark chocolate almond toffee

Strawberry jam

Pumpkin seed bread

Alaskan-smoked salmon

Rambutan fruit

Beet root chutney

Spicy garlic Vietnamese ketchup

Ginger beer soda

Tayberry jam

Creme brûlée bites

Ravioli with vodka sauce

Pineapple jalapeño hummus

Olive oil stuff on a cracker

Chocolate-covered orange peel

Kale and vegetable dumpling

Chicken and lemongrass dumpling

Curry chicken egg roll

Rice ball with mushroom and cheese

Sweet potato muffin

Coconut water

Swiss cheese

Another mozzarella ball

Ricotta cheese

Hibiscus iced tea

Chocolate peanut butter meltaway

Blueberry licorice

Mushrooms with porcini

Chocolate honey peanut butter

Chocolate-covered kona coffee beans

Pistachio ice cream

Turkey jerky

Brownie thing

Raw coconut butter

Sage and mirepoix chicken

Rosemary-roasted potato

Cinnamon bourbon jam

Soft sheep cheese

Coconut water

White peach liqueur

The third hour ended with a shot of white peach liqueur — not a good idea — which was followed immediately by a shot of camel milk. Why did the camel milk vendor have to be located next to the liqueur vendor? Why did I consume both of those samples within seconds of each other? Why the hell was I doing this at all? A very uncomfortable, dull ache brewed in my gut, and the kombucha samples (fermented tea) a few minutes later didn’t help matters much.

Camel milk

Teriyaki turkey jerky

Cinnamon twist trail mix

Pomegranate arils

Organic black peeper beef jerky

Plum kombucha

Apple kombucha

Spicy beef and lentil polenta

Peanut butter cacao bar

Bloody Mary popcorn

Falafel chips

Peach balsamic vinegar

Chocolate-covered potato chips

Chickpea pasta

Sea-salted caramel frosting

Pomegranate açaí energy water

White chocolate caramel sauce

Cinnamon roll

Gluten-free chocolate chip cookie

Ghost pepper peanuts

Mocha caramel brownie

Olive oil brownie

Chicago-style hot dog relish

Ham and barbecue sauce thing

Birthday cake chocolate-covered pretzel

Sea salt tangy yogurt

Lemon coconut granola

Mint creme coconut butter cup

Ranch-popped kernels

Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup

Dairy-free burnt sugar vanilla ice cream

Pickled okra with smoked paprika

Pumpkin cheddar cheese straw

Onion jalapeño chutney

Peanut brittle

Strawberry rhubarb jam

Coconut Harissa

Smoked mozzarella

Roasted red pepper fusilli

Cheese-stuffed pepper

Ten minutes left. I had a goal in mind and, by God, I was going to reach it. I was eating whatever I could get my hands on at this point. Jams, jerkies, candies. There was no way I was doing this to my body and leaving the Jacob Javits Convention Center without winning this game. I use the word “winning” loosely, but victory would be mine.

Blueberry bourbon pecan jam

White cheddar jalapeño popcorn

Bacon chocolate

Basil citrus turkey jerky

Grilled teriyaki pork jerky

Chocolate thing

Chalk licorice

Double chocolate Pisa cookie

Sweet onion cracker

Some sort of Indian rice

Beef summer sausage

Chocolate peppermint bark

As time expired, I popped a broken slab of chocolate peppermint bark in my mouth — an after-dinner mint for the ages — and raised my hands triumphantly. No applause from the crowd milling around me. They were oblivious to my sadistic culinary adventure, but I knew what I had accomplished.

213 samples in four hours. I wanted to reach 200 and surpass it comfortably (or, rather, uncomfortably), and that’s exactly what I did. The train ride back to Harrisburg — yeah, that would be interesting.