Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Discomfort Food

Outrageous Food star Tom Pizzica gets down with his subject matter

Having enjoyed the most recent edition of The Food Network’s Next Food Network Star, I was pleased to see runner-up Tom “Big Chef” Pizzica get his own TV series, Outrageous Food, on Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET. A joking, cuddly bear of a guy who seems like he’d be fun to hang with, Tom is a fine choice to host a show in which people cook and eat foods such as the 105-pound hamburger (including the 45-pound homemade bun) served at the Clinton Diner in Clinton, NJ, not far from us. Unlike Adam Richman on The Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, Tom is not expected to try to eat the titular outrageous foods by himself in a brief time period. Just as well; even the ten college students who teamed up to gobble the behemoth burger within an hour—with $5 million dollars on the line if they succeeded—couldn’t finish it.

But at least the giant burger only fills you up, big time. The Outrageous Food that gave me pause was at Cactus Bob’s BBQ Corral in Johnston, IA. Owner Cactus Bob isn’t just being a showman when he ominously intones, “Do you think you can handle the pain?” Several of their menu items have the word “Death” or “Dead” in their names. The insanely hot food on the menu gets its heat from the most intense chili peppers known to foodie-kind, Ghost Peppers, honored by The Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chili peppers ever. At one million Scoville Heat Scale Units, the Ghost Pepper has snatched the Hottest Pepper crown from the once-mighty Jalapeno, now considered kid stuff with its paltry 2,500 Scoville Units. 
Call me a wuss, but as I watched the Cactus Bob segment, the “honor” looked more like punishment to me, if not outright torture. When Tom and Bob prepared the joint’s signature Showdown Sauce, featuring not only Ghost Peppers but also a satanic smorgasbord of other hot sauces and spices, the capsaicin fumes were so noxious that the guys couldn’t touch the peppers with their bare hands or even breathe their fumes without wearing safety goggles and surgical masks. Even then, they had to bring the skillet outdoors to cook without contaminating the restaurant! No problem for the local chili-heads who knew and looked forward to what they were in for, but I felt sorry for other poor unsuspecting souls on the street who happened to be standing downwind. Second-hand smoke has nothing on capsaicin fumes.
Dr. Lester Wilson of Iowa State University was on hand to explain, “The capsaicin is in the (pepper’s) membrane as a protective mechanism by the plant, meaning we’re not supposed to eat it.” Laughing, Tom said, “So the body’s saying, ‘You’re an idiot.’” A reasonable assumption, considering Tom broke out sweating from sampling just a tiny dab of Showdown Sauce. Cactus Bob tightened the screws even more by making diners who’d eaten the Showdown Sauce-bathed pulled pork sandwiches sit still for 10 minutes after eating, with no milk, water, or other coolants to douse their inner fires. I felt even sorrier for folks who’d accidentally gotten Showdown Sauce on their faces or in their eyes! “This is worse than labor,” one lady said, “and I pushed for three hours!” If she thinks it hurts now, wait until the next time she has to go potty; what goes in must go out, after all, and I’m told capsaicin stays potent for quite a while….
Hey, I get the appeal of eating ginormous amounts of food; it’s kinda like the call of the wild, but with more variety. But I’m at a loss as to why people are eager to eat foods that actually cause searing pain inside and out. Is it some crazy way of getting in touch with one’s primitive side to convince ourselves that modern life hasn’t turned us 21st-century folk into wimps? If you want to set your alimentary canal on fire, go ahead and have yourselves a blast. I’ll get my wild food kicks from ice cream, thank you; brain freeze doesn’t last as long.


  1. Yeah, I'm over the whole eating ghost chili thing. I'd like to try it just once, by itself in a dish. Food should not hurt.

  2. Welcome to our newest ITRD?! Follower, our own Donna Dee, a.k.a. beckettslady! I'm with you, my friend: "Food should not hurt." I don't think I've even got the courage/chutzpah to try even a drop of the stuff! I'll stick with my ice cream vice, thanks! :-)

  3. There are so many fabulous foods out there. I can think of any number of things I would rather eat than those peppers. I actually saw parts of those food segments and those people are idiots. But the prize for eating the giant hamburger was 5 THOUSAND dollars, not 5 million. For 5 million dollars, I would be the first in line!

  4. Oops, you're right, Ingrid, that was indeed $5,000. I still wouldn't turn up my pert little nose at it! :-) By the way, I was tempted to add another item to ITRD's food follies, but perhaps it's just not ITRD? enough. :-) Check out this CHOW link to a dish for those who think since life is uncertain, they should eat dessert first, kinda:

  5. Thank you for writing my blog for me. This beautifully states what I've been mulling over. I enjoy heat in my food, but not to the oint of it being an endurance test.

    My wife grew Thai Dragon peppers twenty years ago, and opted to make hot sauce. After Cuisinarting the little darlings and setting them to cook with appropriate spices, we had to evacuate the house. It was like we had set off a gas grenade. The sauce finished, and was of such potency that you had to stick a toothpick in the bottle and then stir it in your soup or stew. More than that rendered your meal into toxic waste. The surprising thing was that it had a lovely flavor with the heat.

  6. Aardvark, it sounds like you and your wife had to straddle that fine line between pleasure and pain! Glad you managed to get some enjoyment out of it after all the agita you went through to get it on the table. Thanks for sharing your story with us here at ITRD!