If you ask Pat Bertoletti, co-owner of Chicago's newest food truck, Glutton Force Five, what is the worst thing he has ever eaten, he won't roll his eyes and get all wind-bagged about some dry meatball sandwich he once had on Clark St. He'll probably get a little pale in the face and tell you about a disgusting bird's nest soup he once had to eat in Thailand—with a thousand-year egg in it, a raw cured egg that spends a month buried under ashes until it hardens to a translucent black-green. "I literally almost puked when I put the eggs in my mouth and [in the past] I've put nearly four pounds of bull balls in my system in 10 minutes, so that's saying something. Fermented shark from Iceland was pretty rough, too."
When it comes to eating—and I mean, seriously eating—Pat Bertoletti has been around the block a few times. In 10 minutes, the time it takes a normal person to eat an ice cream cone, he can eat more than 10 pounds of corned beef. In eight minutes, he can consume almost exactly four pounds of chicken wings, 15 pounds of strawberry shortcake, 34-dozen Acme oysters, nine pounds of blueberry pie, a whole turkey and 275 pickled jalapeños. This is only a partial list. Bertoletti is currently ranked second by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
When it comes to pursuing his kind of lifestyle, Bertoletti, says there are only two qualities you need: poor genetics and faulty brain wiring. "I will try anything in a contest at least once. I have struggled with the texture of raw oysters in the past, and Rocky Mountain Oysters were quite chewy and nauseating; and I hold the record for whole pickled jalapeños, but find them kind of gross to eat normally."
Last November, Bertoletti, along with his friend and fellow competitive eater, Tim "Gravy" Brown, set upon a new food challenge, and probably the hardest challenge of all. They accepted the challenge of owning a food truck in Chicago.
The two friends, who met five years ago on the competitive eating circuit, decided to open Glutton Force Five, a self-proclaimed, "A-Team meets drunken delights on wheels." The idea came to Tim after he got drunk on a flight. Armed with Sir Snugglesworth (a large bulldog and official taste-tester), the Party Bot and a Unicorn (whose name is open for sponsorship), Glutton Force Five is bringing their competitive eating world to the streets of Chicago, including an on-board $500 eating challenge.
Last week, I spoke to Bertoletti about what it takes not only to be a world-renowned competitive eater, but also a food truck owner in Chicago.
Tell us about the food we can expect to see on Glutton Force Five. At Rib Fest, we paid homage to the King and barbecue lovers everywhere with Elvis Bread Pudding (peanut butter toffee bread pudding topped with bacon fat, bacon cream cheese frosting). I can't eat peanut butter, bread, and bananas after winning the annual peanut butter and banana-eating contest (31 in 10 minutes). We also premiered a Ultra BBQ Bowl (spicy BBQ braised pork butt topped with BBQ potato chip flavored mashed potatoes and corn nuts). Generally speaking we are not food snobs, we love greasy, shitty hangover food. We put our spin on the classics with a little bit of our twisted imaginations. We love simple food done right and aim to follow that.
Some of the menu items appear to be named after people. For instance, tell us about the namesakes of The Big Jim and The Alberto. One of the benefits of competitive eating is that we are sent to all corners of the earth. We've picked up a lot of undiscovered flavors and dishes and brought them back. The Big Jim is our take on the walking taco: [It's] essentially Fritos topped with chorizo gravy, crema, and green onions. It's the essential white trash treat and we're not ashamed of it. After sampling a sub par version in Buffalo with our friend and fellow gurgitator Jim Reeve, we realized that no one does them, let alone a really good version of it. The Alberto was inspired by a Piña Colada and rum-fueled trek to Puerto Rico where we sampled a traditional sandwich garnished with potato straws. [For this dish], we pay homage to the dog that followed us through the rain forest, Alberto.
It only seems fitting that a food truck helmed by competitive eaters would offer up their own eating contest. What is "The Challenge"? Anyone from the public can challenge either Tim or myself to a showdown with anything off of our menu. If they win, we pay 500 bucks.
What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago? Hot Dougs. I've been there 20+ times and I am never disappointed. Also, The Publican, Paul Kahan is a fucking genius. I went with my friend and we ordered almost everything on the right side of the menu.
Most challenging thing about licensing and regulating a food truck in Chicago? The City of Chicago is the laughing stock of the food world. They are really restrictive with food trucks. They make it nearly impossible to get the necessary licenses. We had to rethink our entire menu because of regulations.
Having started the process last year, and going through quite a bit, do you think anything will change anytime soon? I think the next thing they will allow is assembling. When that happens, we will expand our menu. Strictly speaking, the amount of food you can do staying legal under Chicago's restrictions is pretty limited.
How does not being able to cook on board affect your menu? Not being able to cook isn't really an issue for us. The only thing I would ever consider adding is a deep fryer—you can have a lot of fun with a deep fryer. Our plan was based on cooking everything ahead and just assembling to order.
Do you have advice for anyone thinking of owning a food truck? Do a bunch of research. Make sure you are familiar with all of the local laws and rules pertaining to food trucks. We bought a bunch of equipment that we later found out would not be allowed on the truck.
You can only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pizza!