By Michael Morton
“I could eat 14 matzoh balls in an afternoon, but if I did it in three minutes you'd have to resuscitate me,” he said, referring both to the number of balls that some of the other contestants wolfed down and the time limit of the Jan. 7 eating contest. “That's out of my league.”
So instead of cramming his mouth full of food, he took his time. “I just sat there, put a little salt on and enjoyed it,” said Pecoraro, 43, a teacher at Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park and eldest son of Sheila Pecoraro, former president of the community council for the 105th Police Precinct.
In the end, Pecoraro consumed 7 1/4 quarter balls, a total which in past years would not have earned him any honors at the annual contest held by Ben's, which has locations in Bayside, Long Island and Manhattan. That is because the field usually includes regulars on the eating-contest circuit.
But for the seventh incarnation of its yearly competition, Ben's created five amateur categories, which according to its online entry form, were “not open to any individuals ranked by the International Federation of Competitive Eating during the last five years.” Since Pecoraro has maintained his amateur status, he was eligible for the new public school teacher category and ended up beating two other educators out of a total field of 48 contestants for the title when all the rounds were completed.
“Competing with other teachers was a more realistic thing,” he said, adding that at 6 feet 3 inches and 225 pounds he did not stack up to the bulk of some of the eaters who had entered the main category.
Pecoraro, a sports fan, said he first entered Ben's contest three years ago after hearing a promo on WABC's “Curtis and Kuby” show that offered competitors free New York Islanders tickets. His only previous experience in such competitions was with pies during college at New York University and chicken fingers at KeySpan Park, home to Brooklyn's Cyclones baseball team.
For Ben's contest, which charges $25 per entry and donates the money to charity, the food of choice is matzoh balls. During this year's competition, entrants had their choice of five Ben's locations for the first round, with the amateur champions for the overall field announced when the round was finished and the winners of the main category going on to a final in Manhattan.
The contestants were allowed to use utensils and to drink one liter of water while trying to cram down as many balls as they could in two minutes and 50 seconds. If anyone vomited, he or she was disqualified.
At Ben's of Baldwin, Pecoraro was the only teacher in the field, and he had to wait two weeks for all the first-round locations to conclude their contests before finding out Jan. 20 he had won his amateur category. After he ate his matzoh balls, he went home and – an hour later – chased them down with some of his wife's beef stew.
“It was a hard-fought victory,” he joked.
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.