Conn. man eats 'Hobbit' menu in 20 minutes

Jamie “The Bear” McDonald has become a "Lord of the Onion Rings,” thanks to the video showing the professional competitive eater demolishing all 10 items featured on Denny’s "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" menu in 20 minutes.

But McDonald, 36, of Granby, Conn., has bigger fish to fry, more wings to eat and another few hundred dozen or so doughnuts to inhale in 2013 as he continues what has become a meteoric rise on the competitive-eating circuit. Since his pro debut in April, the former body builder has won 51 events and earned $24,950 for his gastronomic efforts.

McDonald, who checked into 2013 at 6-feet-2, 220 pounds, works as a technical analyst for an aerospace company when he’s not eating for sport or fun. He hits the gym most days for two hours of weightlifting and cardio work starting at 4 a.m. to “keep myself from weighing 400 pounds.” He has gained 12 pounds since he began eating professionally and started with a body-fat level of 4 percent.

And he’s as serious about physical conditioning as he is about food. How many professional eaters began 2013 like this?

The record was 455 pounds six times. And he wasn’t talking about his fork.

It took McDonald three tries to complete the “Hobbit” video, shot at a Denny’s in Enfield, Conn., because his camera overheated and shut down twice before he finished the menu. Each visit cost him about $80, plus tips, and the trips were spread over several days. Among the items sent to McDonald’s middle-girth were the Hobbit Hole Breakfast, the Shire Sausage Skillet and Gandalf’s Gobble Melt.

McDonald told Playbook that eating the entire Denny’s "Hobbit" menu “was not very hard, it just looked a lot more impressive.” According to the Denny’s Meal Calculator, the menu items total 8,610 calories, 426 grams of fat, 2,530 grams of cholesterol and 17,620 grams of sodium. “That’s horrible,” McDonald said. “It was comfort food. It tasted good. It was a helluva lot of food but not nearly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The key was to time the video for the opening of the movie.”

Bilbo Baggins never ate with such ferocity.

The Denny’s wait-staff wasn’t sure what to make of McDonald. “When you order everything on the menu, they look at you like you’re nuts,” he said. “At first they were kind of shocked, but eventually, I had other people in the restaurant cheering for me to finish.”

McDonald has starred in an eggnog chugging video, a “Christmas Story”-themed food-challenge video and a New Year’s Midnight Madness Milky Way Challenge video since completing his journey through the fine fare of Erebor.

The “A Christmas Story” video mimics the scene in the 1983 holiday classic in which young Randy shows his mommy “how the piggies eat” while finishing off his meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

McDonald said eating a variety of foods in a challenge is a lot more fun than devouring 33 slices of pumpkin pie (with no hands) in 10 minutes, chewing up 39 hot dogs in eight minutes or eating 45 meatballs for $2,500. “The Denny’s thing was easier because of the variety of foods -- switching between salty and sweet. The different texture of the foods keeps it interesting. Some foods are very easy to eat, the ones you don’t have to chew, like burritos or fried pies [he’s eaten more than 10 pounds in eight minutes],” McDonald said.

Things also were much more relaxed at Denny’s. “In a contest, you’re much more high-stressed. Your entire focus is getting it down as fast as possible and concentrating on chewing enough to swallow without choking,” he said.

In order to out-eat his competitors and conquer the video challenges he and his brother Joseph post on jamiethebearmcdonald.com, McDonald focuses on three areas: “capacity, jaw strength and will power.”

McDonald said he was inspired to tackle challenges and eventually begin eating competitively after visiting a restaurant in San Diego featured on Adam Richman’s “Man v. Food” show on the Travel Channel. He easily finished the challenge featured on the show and followed that by winning a chili dog eating contest.

His main event for 2013, Wing Bowl 21, will take place at a sold-out Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Feb. 1 and features a $20,000 winner-take-all first prize. McDonald, who chose not to sign with Major League Eating and therefore is not eligible to compete in the July 4 hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s in New York, earned his spot in Wing Bowl 21 by wiping out five dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in less than 10 minutes, a total of 11,400 calories and 660 grams of fat. Takeru Kobayashi, who won Wing Bowl 21 in 2012, is not scheduled to compete this year, and McDonald isn’t shy about his chances.

“I’m not all that showy of a person," he said. "You have guys who ham it up. For me, it’s work. I’m up there to win.”