Miki Sudo, ranked 7th in the world by Major League Eating, is our first featured eater in our holiday special. Miki is a new face on the scene, having made her professional debut this past April, but in her short time on the circuit she’s already found herself ranked in the top 10. Before her professional debut Miki had competed briefly on the amateur circuit including a stint on the Tasted Channel series, Stuffed. I was able to sit down and have a chat with Miki over the phone and discuss her entry into the scene, the discovery of her talent, her experiences on the competitive eating circuit, and some of her accomplishments to date.
Mondo: In your short time as a professional eater you’ve gone from the amateur level to winning several contests and even becoming ranked 7th in the world. How does it feel to have accomplished so much in less than a year?
Miki: The whole thing has been a whirlwind! A little over a year ago (in August of 2012), I did my first amateur contest on a dare here in Las Vegas. I had no experience watching eating contests, much less participating, and the other competitors laughed because I didn’t look like I belonged in the competition. It wasn’t mean-spirited, but I was already unsettled by the thought of getting barbecue sauce on my face, and it was enough to intimidate me to the point that almost withdrew. Glad I didn’t, because I ended up taking first and having a great time. From there, I started competing regularly at the local level, and I kind of kept winning. In April of this year, I entered (and won) my first professional event, joined Major League Eating, and debuted in the rankings at 7th. In my rookie season on the professional circuit, I did 17 events, and I even got to experience winning a few pro events outright. It’s been a very busy and absolutely surreal year.
Mondo: Yeah. From what I saw in your Stuffed video you discovered you had this capacity on accident. You didn’t know you could eat that much?
Miki: No. I randomly discovered that I had an abnormally large capacity when I completed 12 pounds of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) in my first restaurant challenge. As far as head-to-head competitions go, I had no idea that I had the confidence to compete so uninhibited, in an activity that’s… anything but ladylike. Before I basically threw myself into my first contest, I would have told you , “I could never do that.” I was terrified at the thought of eating in front of a crowd and making a mess. That was only a year ago. Now, I feel none of that self-consciousness. Personally, that’s been the biggest transformation.
Mondo: Going off of that, did you ever really eat a lot just not a competitive eating level?
Miki: No. I’ve always been pretty athletic, so I had an appetite growing up, but I don’t have any crazy stories about eating a seventh plate at thanksgiving or anything like that.
Mondo: You mentioned you used do sports and now you’re a competitive eater so you’ve had an athletic background for a while, what kind of sports did you use to compete in?
Miki: When I lived in Hawaii, I loved anything on the water; Surfing, diving, kayaking. Here, I enjoy hiking and yoga.
Mondo: Ok, you used to live in Hawaii, why the transition from Japan?
Miki: I’ve actually lived in a lot of places, so it’s kind of difficult to ask me where I’m from: New York, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco Bay Area, now Vegas — some of those places twice. I lived in Japan from age 4 to 12, and my sister and I grew up speaking Japanese, so when the family was moving back to America, my mom figured Hawaii would be the easiest transition for us while we adapted to English. Hawaii has a large Japanese population.
Mondo: That’s cool. And why the transition from Hawaii to Vegas?
Miki: Well, from Hawaii, we actually moved to the San Francisco Bay Area as I was entering high school, and I moved to New York for my first year of college. Then, I returned to Hawaii– and then, I came here (to Las Vegas).
Mondo: You’re a globetrotter!
Miki: I guess so. But yeah, I moved here to finish my degree. I wanted a change of pace, and the opportunity was there.
Mondo: Ok. We’ll jump back into eating real quick. Does it feel weird to blend social standards while competing? Society tells us that thin in is in but then there are a lot of men that are attracted to you as you eat a 15 pound sandwich. How do you kind of walk the line with the juxtaposition of these two images?
Miki: It’s obviously a compliment when people have nice things to say about me but I still don’t understand the attraction in being able to eat a lot. That’s not really why I do it but you know I’m not complaining.
Mondo: It’s weird. The guys just think, “wow, she can eat” and go bonkers.
Miki: When I compete in speed events, I have to disregard any notion of having to look “cute” or “pretty”. I’m there to compete! I don’t think the eating part is attractive in itself; maybe it’s the apparent lack of inhibition? I don’t know, my best guess is that passion and talent are attractive, even if my passion involves a strange “talent”. Or, maybe it has something to do with holding my own against the best competitors in the world.
Mondo: Speaking of holding your own against some of the best competitors in the world I’ve noticed through watching videos, mostly Matt Stonie’s since he always uploads a video of any contest he competes in, and I always see him, you, Chestnut and a few others. So seeing a lot of the same faces at these contests have you developed any friendships with any of your fellow eaters?
Miki: Oh yeah. For the most part we all get along as one big traveling family. I do see a lot of the same faces on the road and I am lucky enough to be able to call a number of them friends. It’s a competition of course and we’re there first to win. Over the course of the competition there is really no mercy at the table but as long as everyone competes fair there aren’t any hard feelings after. We’ll usually get together, have drinks, and check out whatever city we happen to be in.
Mondo: That’s cool. Is there any specific competitor that you’ve bonded with more than anyone else?
Miki:(laughs) The guys have a lot of bromances on the circuit and as girls we are definitely outnumbered. I don’t know if we consider each other BFFs but I love seeing Michelle Lesco and I love seeing her do well at the table. And I love seeing Joey Chestnut and Matt Stonie. They’re great guys, and they give me a lot to strive for at the tables.
Mondo: I actually tweeted this a little while ago but I said that you, Chestnut, and Stonie are the Justice League of eating.
Miki: (laughs) that’s cute, I like that. That’s incredibly flattering because I haven’t been doing it for all that long. Matt’s in his 3rd year and Joey has been doing this for over 7 years I believe but the comparison is flattering because I’ve really just started. It’s awesome even to be considered alongside those two, especially this early on. As a Rookie, I took a lot of risks this year. Some paid off; some didn’t. I should be able to reach more of my potential next year, and I expect Joey and Matt will continue to demonstrate why they top the rankings. I’m really looking forward to next season.
Mondo: Well it’s good that you’ve learned from your mistakes and you’re improving your technique. The fact that you’re 7th right now and you’ve found better ways to work at the game I am assuming we’ll only see you jump up a few spots.
Miki: When I was ranked for the first time (at 7th), I had done only two professional events, so it was difficult for me to put it into perspective. It was pretty much unheard of for a rookie to debut at such a high rank, so I was little nervous that I might have been over-estimated. So more than anything, I felt the pressure to prove myself, but over the last six months on the pro circuit, I’ve had the opportunity to show that I’ve earned that spot, not just others, but also to myself. I’m confident that I can only go up from here.
Mondo: Let’s get back to you and less about the circuit. So you ate the big fat fatty and you got to have your own sandwich on the menu. It was the Banh Miki and I’m not sure if it’s still on the menu as it was for a limited time only but was that your first choice when crafting the sandwich or were there a couple of other ideas you passed up in favor of the Banh Miki?
Miki: I did that challenge as part of the “Stuffed” series, and the cool thing about that project was that every day, we didn’t know what we were going to be doing. It could be a small speed challenge, a gross challenge, or a huge capacity challenge, and we just had to be ready for anything. On that particular day, I didn’t envision me eating a 10-12 pound sandwich, it was crazy. The owner and one of the hosts, Pat, had a side bet going; I felt a whole lot of pressure. It was just a really cool accomplishment, if you can call competitive eating stunts “accomplishments”. It took a while to get the sandwich off the ground, probably because I wasn’t in the area. We couldn’t take care of it during filming because we were on a tight schedule, but the manager and I were texting back and forth constantly, and it kind of just happened organically. Basically, I came up with the name, and he came up with the ingredients. It was just a meeting of the minds. I love everything that he’s putting into it. It’s got the Fat Sal’s twist with the onion rings, but I have yet to try it. They need to open up a Vegas location already!
Mondo: I’m surprised that they haven’t, I feel like it’s an eatery that would thrive really well out there.
Miki: I think so too. I would love to have one here.
Mondo: I actually have shown a couple different friends that video and shown them the sandwich online. Ideally before the month is over we would like to do a field trip just to check out the sandwich. I mean I can’t eat it because I’m vegan but I would at least like to see the sandwich.
Miki: Yeah. Some of my friends have sent me pictures from the restaurant, but I haven’t been back to LA since they added it to the menu.
Mondo: Going back to stuffed, do any of your friends or just anyone in real life call you Mikachew? Have they adopted that name?
Miki: (laughs) It’s cute, but that was just for the show. The eating was real; my nickname was not. Honestly, I enjoy competing without stage name. They can be cool, but I think it’s equally cool if your actual name can carry you on its own.
Mondo: I feel you. I can see it from both sides each working well for the respective individual. I know that instead of referring to him as Joey Chestnut some people like to refer to him as jaws or calling Matt Stonie Mega Toad. Sometimes referring yourself as your actual name instead of a nickname carries a level of gravitas that you can’t really achieve via a nickname; yet at the same time the nicknames are really cool and I just can’t decide!
Miki: They’re fun; they’re just not for everyone. My attitude is this: if it happens organically– if people start calling me by a nickname and it sticks, if there’s a story behind it– that’s great. But I’m not the type to say, “From this point forward, you shall call me blah blah blah”.
Mondo: Cool. Referring to Stuffed once again, do you still keep in contact with the people you worked with on the show?
Miki: Absolutely. When I said that a friend had sent me a picture of him ordering the Fat Banh Miki, I was actually referring to one of the producers. And back in August, another producer came to the Gyoza Eating Championship in Little Tokyo (LA) to cheer me on. The staff and crew were great, and I’d love to work with them again. As for the eaters (Pat, Tim, Naader, Dax, and Jimmy), they’re like my competitive eating bros because we survived the hectic filming schedule and crazy challenges together. Not to mention, each other in close quarters. It’s always fun to see Pat and Tim when I travel through Chicago, and Tim and his girlfriend actually saved me when I was stranded at O’Hare recently.
Mondo: When was this?
Miki: First week of October– I was coming back from the hard-boiled egg eating contest in Kentucky, and because of the weather, I missed the last connecting flight out of Chicago. .
Mondo: Ok, I remember watching a video of that. Was that the first time a bunch of you had done an egg eating contest.
Miki: Yeah, this was the first year MLE held a hard-boiled egg eating contest. I ate something like 109 in 8 minutes?
Mondo: I know you broke triple digits. I just didn’t remember what the exact number was.
Miki: (laughs) yup. Either way, it was a great event with an incredibly supportive crowd. I got stranded halfway home, but even that worked out because I got an extra day to hang out in Chicago.
Mondo: Cool. Well that does it for questions; do you have any statements you want to leave the readers with?
Miki: When people ask why I “chose” competitive eating, I joke that I didn’t choose it; it chose me. I mean, just a year ago, I had done a couple of Man vs Food -type challenges, but if you had told me that I’d soon be competing in front of crowds, in head-to-head speed events, against the best in the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. Too scary, not for me, no way– and life would have gone on. But by pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, I found something that I really enjoy, and I happen to be good at it. I love food, competition, travel, and meeting interesting people — and I get to experience them all on the circuit. So, while competitive eating isn’t the path for everybody, I think the lesson here is this: Challenge yourself to try new things, even if they make you a little uncomfortable because you never know what you’ll discover about yourself. And finally, huge thanks to all the people who support us at events; without you cheering us on– well, this would all just be a little silly.