Eat It: The Life and Times of Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, a world-class competition eater (Newcity)

Published August 29, 2011 (http://resto.newcity.com/2011/08/29/eat-it-the-life-and-times-of-patrick-deep-dish-bertoletti-a-world-class-competition-eater/)

By Ben Small

Patrick Bertoletti“Normal life is so boring,” explains Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti from his modest basement apartment in Pilsen, his spiked mohawk lying flat and unassuming. If it wasn’t for his girlfriend, he’d be out traveling every weekend to different locations around the world, wherever he can find a stage to do what he does best: eat a lot of things unfathomably fast.

Bertoletti takes his nickname from the city that made him who he is, where he grew up and discovered deep-dish pizza, his first culinary love. He had always been an impressive eater, a “big kid,” but it was his twin sister who convinced him to try it competitively. He entered a pizza-eating competition when he was nineteen and came in fourth, after eating five pounds of the stuff, before bringing it all back up on someone’s lawn on the drive home. “I felt like total trash” he says, describing his immediate reaction. He told himself he would never do it again. Nonetheless, a week later his opinions changed as he realized he liked the attention. “It was cool,” he says. Several years later, Bertoletti is number two in the world at eating: he has been to more than thirty states and five different countries and now holds thirty-five stomach-churning world records. And, at twenty-six, he is still considered a young athlete in the competition-eating world.

Most of us over-indulge on Independence Day with beer, fireworks and a BBQ. Bertoletti was, however, taking it to the next level at the competition that has been described as the Super Bowl of the competitive-eating world: Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The competition, which has been held at the trademark hotdog stand in Coney Island every year since 1916, began when four immigrants tried to prove who was the most patriotic by racing to see who could consume the most of the all-American delicacy. It has grown in its hundred-year history to become a huge event, attended by 30,000 people and watched on live television by another two million.

“Eat two hotdogs at a time, dunk a bun [in red sugar-free Kool-Aid, believe it or not], swallow it, dunk a bun, swallow it,” Bertoletti explains his technique for getting those hotdogs down as rapidly as possible. This year, however, Bertoletti came in second after consuming a total of fifty-three hotdogs, bun and all, in ten minutes. His figure was unfortunately shy of Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, his archnemesis-cum-friendly compatriot, who won with a triumphant sixty-two. For Bertoletti, this is the only competition that matters to him, the focal point of his year. All he wants to do is to leave Coney Island with the yellow Nathan’s belt around his waist and more hotdogs than his nearest competitor in his belly. Second place was not enough.

He dedicated eight weeks of his life to training this year; a regime of eating only hotdogs and going through around fifteen or so practice runs, eating thirty-to-fifty hotdogs each time. Competition eating is not something that the world number two takes lightly. Yet, for now at least, it was not enough. “I was in the best eating shape of my life,” admits Bertoletti, “but next year I think I know what to do.” He likens himself to a baseball slugger; he knows he can hit a home run, but to do it every time is outside of the realm of possibility. He is chasing the elusive dragon.

The other competitions no longer give Bertoletti the buzz that they used to. He wins numerous contests throughout the year, sets records and walks away with a substantial amount of prize money, but often the best competitors are not there and the challenge is lacking for him. “I get kind of burned out about it and don’t care,” Bertoletti explains. “I love all the things about it but I’m not too impressed with myself just because I’ve done it so many times.” Each time that he goes out to a competition his hope is that he will have a good day: where everything goes right, the jaw, the throat and the stomach work in perfect unison. Then, if he is having a good day, he strives to eat an amount of food that shocks people. (He quotes 275 jalapenos in ten minutes as a personal favorite, although I was more impressed by thirty-four dozen, or 408, oysters in eight minutes.) That’s what keeps him coming back each time.

Despite his wavering attitude toward his achievements, Bertoletti has fun when showing off his talent. He occasionally takes on individual restaurants that have “eat all this and you get it for free” type challenges just for the kicks. Often he has to turn up disguised in case the owners recognize his face. He once embarked upon a steak that has an hour allotted to consume it, only to polish it off in ten minutes. Another time he ordered a five-pound burger, which no one had ever finished, at a suburban bowling alley. He told the server to wait there while he brought it out because he was feeling particularly hungry, knowing that he would make light work of it. The server expressed a nonchalant attitude toward Bertoletti’s bravado, before watching him eat the burger in two minutes as he stood by, flabbergasted. He even made light work of the fries whilst the server cried out to him that they weren’t a part of the challenge.

It has gotten to the point where stomach capacity is not even an issue; it is simply a matter of speed and technique. On July 4, Bertoletti finished his fifty-three hotdogs and the first emotion that came across him was irritation, angry because he did not even feel full, he knew he could have eaten more if he was having a better day. “At least if I was gonna explode I’d be happier,” says Bertoletti. “There’s only been a few times when I couldn’t possibly fit another ounce of food in me. Those were the days I was happiest, back then I was like ‘Holy crap! I ate some serious pounds today!’”

Despite the physical feat of eating so much food and the training required, Bertoletti is still reluctant to say that this activity, which he has dedicated the last six years of his life to, is a sport. The franchise that endorses professional eating competitions and to which all the main competitors worldwide are contractually restricted to, Major League Eating (MLE), he refers to as “one big, huge joke.” He jokes at the notion of people taking it seriously, like a sport. Yet, despite his lighthearted attitude toward MLE, there is unrepentant pride in the fact that very few people can do what he does, and that it is very difficult. There is an element of fear, however, to the abnormal manner in which competition eaters can manipulate their bodies. It’s more than mind over matter, it’s going against nature. “The more I think about it, it’s not right,” admits Bertoletti.

But for now, Bertoletti is committed. He will never give up until he wins the coveted Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. He knows he does not want to be doing it forever; his dream is to become a renowned chef when he retires from eating. His culinary qualifications as a Kendall College graduate speak volumes for his passion for food, just as much as his ability to eat twenty-one pounds of grits in ten minutes.

Keep up-to-date with Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti’s current eating prowess at DeepDishEats.com.

Civil Disobedience at the Secure Communities Hearing (CAIR-Chicago)

Published August 29, 2011 (http://www.cairchicago.org/2011/08/29/civil-disobedience-at-the-secure-communities-hearing/)

By Ben Small

On Wednesday, August 17th 2011, CAIR-Chicago staff attorney, Rabya Khan, and communications intern, Becky Fogel, attended a public hearing held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss the Secure Communities program. The event ended in civil disobedience led by local youth and the arrest of six attendees. The program aims to identify and deport undocumented immigrants that are also criminal offenders. However, it has proved to be more effective at removing non-criminals, breaking up families and instilling fear in innumerable harmless people across the United States. Nearly half of all those that have been deported in Illinois alone have never been convicted of any crime.

Activists from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) gathered outside before the hearing and formed a sit-down protest, blocking a street intersection. They demanded that the only viable solution to the failings of Secure Communities is to terminate the program. The police eventually forced protesters off the streets and the events only caused a slight delay to the proceedings. Yet, the hearing was further delayed when the police stopped letting people into Ibew Hall for the event. Only after the chants of “let them in” rang around the hall and the verification that there was a lawful number of people in the building could the hearing eventually advance.

The board at the hearing was made up of members of the Chicago Bar Foundation, representatives of DHS as well as other attorneys affiliated with immigration organizations. Speeches were made by people who have been affected by Secure Communities. This included an elderly, Caucasian male who has been working in manual labor all his life alongside immigrants. An attorney named Moni Valasquez from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) had a client affected by Secure Communities speak. The overwhelming feeling at the hearing was that the program is ineffective and the source of fear and injustice for countless within this country’s borders.

The hearing was interrupted by Alaa Mukahhal who commandeered the microphone to launch into a passionate and animated speech about her and her family’s experiences as undocumented inhabitants of the US under the dread of Secure Communities. She rallied the crowd to join her and five others to walk out of the building, right then and there, to intentionally obstruct traffic and put themselves under the risk of being arrested and, thus, potentially deported.

Hundreds of protesters left Ibew Hall and blocked the streets outside for nearly an hour, for the most part, in a relatively placid manner. Trouble eventually ensued when a group decided to block the on-ramp to the Kennedy Expressway. One man in particular was chased down and arrested as he began to make his way to the expressway proper. At this point the protest got physical with three police vans arriving on the scene, arresting five others with makeshift plastic handcuffs and charging them with mob action misdemeanors. They were released at 4am the next morning, ordered to do community service and handed a pending court date of September 8th. Their futures remain in the balance.

Preview: Braid/Metro (Newcity)

Published August 23, 2011 (http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/23/preview-braidmetro/)Braid

Following the successful reunion last year of Chicago’s seminal nineties emo band, Cap’n Jazz, it seemed only a matter of time before the city’s other genre stalwart, Braid, would also announce their return. Bob Nanna and co. return to the Metro (where their initial departing shows occurred way back in 1999) with the hope to recapture the energy of their brand of post-hardcore that became so influential long after their breakup.

The new EP that has been released to coincide with the reunion suggests the discordant angular sound and emotive shouting of ”Frame and Canvas”-era Braid has been ditched for a softer sound and much more melodic singing, which bears greater resemblance to the poppier post-Braid project, Hey Mercedes. The dynamic guitar work of Nanna and Chris Broach, however, reminds us that we are still listening to Braid and that they’ve certainly still got it, despite the aggressive side of the band being toned down. A band of individuals that have been working on a number of other projects for the last decade can hardly be blamed to have evolved and matured their songwriting and influences; it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect “Frame and Canvas II.” And as Nanna revealed in a recent interview with Mixtape Muse, he simply can’t shout like he used to. (Ben Small)

August 27 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-4140, 8pm, $16. 18+.

Staff Attorney Rabya Khan Meets with High School Regarding Anti-Muslim Worksheets (CAIR-Chicago)

Published August 16, 2011 (http://www.cairchicago.org/2011/08/16/staff-attorney-rabya-khan-meets-with-high-school-regarding-anti-muslim-worksheets/)

By Ben Small

CAIR-Chicago Staff Attorney Rabya Khan met with officials at a Chicago-area high school on Monday, August 15th, regarding a complaint CAIR-Chicago received by a parent alleging that the high school’s social studies class is distributing misleading worksheets on Islam. The worksheets in question, produced by a California based educational resource company, teaches students that the religion of Islam is oppressive towards women, inherently violent, and played an important role in harboring slavery.

One of the readings contains verses from the Quran which are quoted out-of-context wrongly giving the impression that women are considered inferior to men. A corresponding worksheet then asks: “The Qur’an stresses the equality of all believers. Yet many say its views about men and women definitely give men more power. How does the top passage here from the Qu’ran support this view?” The reading is accompanied by a photo of two women in burqa, a full-body covering worn by only a minority of Muslim women worldwide. The inauthentic translation, imagery, and presentation of information leads students to a biased conclusion about the status of men and women in Islam.

Another reading implies that slavery was an encouraged practice in Islam, and then the corresponding worksheet states “Slavery was common in Islam; however, it took several very different forms. […] Prepare a brief talk to the class on what you learn about these two forms of slavery. Title your talk, “Slavery’s Many Forms in the Islamic World.”” Wrongly suggesting some sort of link between slavery and Islam. In reality, the Qu’ran strongly condemned slavery and offered enticing rewards to those who freed slaves. Prophet Muhammad himself freed numerous slaves and the situation for slaves greatly improved with the advent of Islam.

In the textbook “The Rise of the Modern Middle East”, lesson titles include “Islam and Islamic Radicalism”. The parent who brought these reading materials to CAIR-Chicago’s attention expressed concern that that over emphasis on the small number of radical Muslims in the world will reinforce stereotypes that link Islam and terrorism and that students will not receive a balanced understanding of Islam and Muslims.

Rabya Khan met with school officials to convey the importance of presenting balanced perspectives and not perpetuating stereotypes. CAIR-Chicago has requested that the school remove the worksheets, and not use them again or any similar worksheets. Rabya also provided a resource list of organizations that can conduct workshops on Islam, including CAIR-Chicago, and is compiling a list of educational resource companies with balanced materials on Islam and Muslims.

The Sounds of Suburbia: Cruising the Ike with Twosyllable Records’ Chicago Cassette (Newcity)

Published August 15, 2011 (http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/15/the-sounds-of-suburbia-cruising-the-ike-with-twosyllable-records-chicago-cassette/)

Twosyllable RecordsBrooklyn-based label Twosyllable Records has recently released a compilation that pays homage to the Windy City’s underground music scene that co-founder, Zach Pollakoff, grew up around. Pollakoff left the suburbs in 2003 to go to college but his soft spot for Chicago remains. The city represented an escape for him, a getaway from the repressive bubble of suburban life, a window to the outside world where culture thrived.

The concept of the compilation came about when a Twosyllable Records band, Holiday Shores, was playing a show at the Empty Bottle. A band called Distractions opened the show and blew both the band and Pollakoff away. They soon became signed to Twosyllable and through Distractions, Pollakoff discovered a network of underground bands in the Chicago scene that now form the eighteen tracks of the mix tape. “As I got to know them [Distractions], I learned that each member of the band had their own side project,” said Pollakoff. Then each member of those projects had their own projects and thus, the network of bands expanded.

From Pet Lions to Heavy Times and Netherfriends to Angel Olsen, the bands on the compilation represent a diverse indie-rock and garage background and are DIY in the truest sense of the term; homemade and imaginative with the resources that they have available. Pollakoff sees the Chicago scene as distinctly unique from other cities around the US. “There’s a quality of musicianship,” he explains, “each band brings their own interesting flavor to the comp that makes it the perfect mixtape.”

The release is limited to a 200-tape run without any plans for a re-press. Pollakoff explains that the cassette-tape format harkens back to the days of recording music straight from the radio on to a tape and then playing it on your parents’ car stereo as you journey along the Eisenhower Expressway back to suburbia. (Ben Small)

The Twosyllable Records Chicago Compilation is available from TwosyllableRecords.com or to download from Twosyllablerecords.bandcamp.com.

Preview: Tigers Jaw/Beat Kitchen (Newcity)

Published August 15, 2011 (http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/15/preview-tigers-jawbeat-kitchen/)Tigers Jaw

When Tigers Jaw’s vocalist Adam McIlwee croons “you are everything and I am nothing” on “Chemicals,” the fourth track on the band’s self-titled 2008 record, it can be very hard to stomach. There’s a terrifying level of teen angst ridden in McIlwee’s lyrics that have the potential to put many people off. Yet once you come to grips with the fact that they are a young, emotional band (I’m sure things are introspectively stressful down in Scranton, Pennsylvania), then there is a lot to enjoy in Tigers Jaw’s take on nineties college indie-rock. There is an unashamed nod towards “Something to Write Home About”-era The Get-Up Kids on the aforementioned self-titled breakthrough album. The mid-tempo instrumentation is punctuated by Brianna Collins’ subtle work on the keyboard whilst the layering of her singing over McIlwee’s complements his voice and gives the band an added dynamic in the vocal department. Tigers Jaw certainly broke no new ground on the release of that album in 2008 but, nonetheless, it was a catchy record worthy of repeated plays. With “Two Worlds,” their 2010 follow-up to the self-titled album, there was, however, little progression from the formula of bouncy, indie-rock with heartfelt lyrics. Despite this, there is enough passion and drive in Tigers Jaw’s live show to keep the sound and style of a decade’s old college rock band refreshing enough. (Ben Small)

August 16 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 West Belmont, (773)281-4444. 6pm. $10. All ages.