‘Buffalo’ Jim Reeves
Gowanda math teacher tells tales of competitive eating career
Gowanda math teacher Jim Reeves is not of traditional academia. He was a 15-year worker as an electrical engineer turned educator, yet, that is not the most interesting facet Reeves presents to his students. The now 10-year faculty member at Gowanda owns the world record for eating the most watermelon in a 15-minute contest, 13.22 pounds, and the most pork rinds in an eating contest.
He travels all around as a competitive eater, while coming back to Gowanda and assists students in understanding the science of numbers.
“Buffalo” Jim Reeves originated in none other than Buffalo
“It started at the first national Buffalo Wing Festival 15 years ago,” Reeves said. “My brother-in-law was in from out of town and I am a big Buffalo guy. So, whenever somebody comes in, I like to show off the city and do stuff and that was the first Wing Festival. So, we went online to see what events they have and it said Chicken Wing Eating Contest and … my brother-in-law was like, ‘Awe man, you should try and get in on that.'”
Reeves knew he had an ability to eat. When he arrived at the festival’s opening year, he tried to find a way to get himself on that stage.
“We showed up the next day and George Shea, who is the chairman of the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating later changed to Major League Eating), … was setting up on stage and I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, can local guys get in on this?’ He said, ‘Well, can you eat?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am pretty good.'”
‘Pretty good’ was an accurate self-assessment for the then-amateur eater Reeves. On Saturday of the two-day weekend event, the amateurs competed. Reeves took the stage and left with a second-place finish. The top few who placed were given the chance to return the following day and face the professionals.
“I ended up beating a couple of them and the rest is history,” he said. “That’s how they get all their guys. Every contest is two-thirds pros and one-third local people.”
From there, Reeves didn’t miss the Buffalo Wing Festival — something no other competitive eater has done — and continued the path as a competitive eater. He also picked up a nickname for himself, “Buffalo” Jim Reeves.
Beyond the bite
Reeves noted that many competitive eaters are intelligent and that it comes down to a science. It’s not a game of who has the emptiest stomach, but who trained their stomach and body best.
“The feeling of fullness is not your stomach being fully distended,” Reeves elaborated. “It’s a chemical signal sent by the brain in response to protein in the stomach.
So, if you just eat a small normal meal after eight minutes, you’re going to be full. … You can do the converse of that for competitive eating.
“If you go like crazy and get as much in before that eight minutes — before your brain sends the signal to say, ‘OK, you’re full’ — that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs. It’s not uncommon to see the amateurs be neck-and-neck with us until seven or eight minutes.”
The training is no easy feat either. Reeves added that some train with beef jerky, because of the toughness to chew, and others bite on obscene numbers of bubble gum sticks. Chewing is an integral part of an eating competition. Joey Chestnut, who won this past hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July, ate 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, that amassed 20,160 calories and a packed stomach, to say the least.
Although, many first jump at the mindset that the biggest difficulty is eating that much, Reeves experienced that getting it to the stomach is the challenge.
“You get to a point where capacity isn’t the problem, it is the ability to chew and swallow,” Reeves told the OBSERVER via phone. “What you’ll see if you ever watch the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest on the Fourth of July, (are that) guys will eat like crazy until six, seven minutes, then all of a sudden they’ll start drinking a lot more water.
“That’s because they have a mouth full of food that they just can’t swallow. Your mouth, your jaws, your throat get tired; they’re muscles.”
And despite the complication there is to improve the mandible muscles to chew, Reeves admits he doesn’t train on the side. Reeves, who is a family man with a wife and three kids, has a focus on his full-time job and home life.
“I just go to my natural limit and that’s why I am ranked No. 20 in the world, instead of No. 1,” Reeves said.
The not-so glories
of being pro
If you watched an eating competition, there may be a few grotesque factors that will turn you off to the sport. Athletes in the hot dog eating competition, for example, will dunk the buns in water, squeeze it out like a rag and smash it in the esophagus to condense its size. Pieces of a former golden bun may cover the lips of an eager, competitive eater.
Competitive eating is not for the taste of the food, but the test of the bite.
“You get over that real quick though,” Reeves said of eating wet hot dog buns. “There’s a couple reasons for it. It certainly makes it faster, but it is also a lot safer. Trying to eat dry hot dog buns fast, you can choke real easy. Anything dry is dangerous.
“And well, it may seem kind of gross, the reality of it is, after you have done it a couple of times, it’s just like anything else. It’s part of a game. It can be your favorite food in the world and after two minutes of eating as fast as you can, it kind of tastes like crap anyways.”
Reeves has been all over North America for eating and loves to bring his family along. From jalapeno competitions to fruit cakes to baked beans to chicken wings and to hot dogs, Reeves has shoved many of foods down his pie hole, so to speak.
To some, that is a delight and a heaven sent to have the opportunity to eat the world’s diverse foods. But the reality is that the eats are not restaurant-quality cuisine.
“We eat a lot of food that don’t taste good,” Reeves said. “They have to prepare so much food, that it’s never warm when we eat. You’re eating cold hot dogs. I am going to go up to Toronto in October and we are going to eat poutine, which is awesome, when you buy it in a restaurant. But when you eat it in 50 degrees in October on the corner of Yonge and Dundas, you’re eating 55-degree french fries with 55-degree gravy.”
When Reeves started competitive eating following his performance at the Buffalo Wing Festival, there weren’t many competitions around. And adding to that, monetary benefits were slim as only the top-placed finishers received prizes. This pushed the former baseball, hockey and football athlete in him to become a threat on the buffet table on eating day.
Reeves humbly admits he wasn’t as efficient as the top eaters and acknowledges the fact that it could become a “very expensive hobby,” but that didn’t stop him from scarfing down 13.22 pounds of watermelon at the Swellin’ With Melon Watermelon Eating Championships at Brookville Community Picnic on July 20, 2005. Reeves is also a three-time finalist in the Krystal Square Off Hamburger Eating Contest.
The food eating
Reeves, after competing for 15 years now, has created a bond with many of the eating athletes. He stated that they share techniques and methods on how to train and eat. Beyond the competitions, Reeves also goes as far as sharing his house with one of the competitors when it comes to Buffalo on Labor Day weekend’s Saturday and Sunday.
He is also offered sleeping arrangements when he travels as well. The friendships are beyond acquaintances.
“It’s like a big fraternity, almost,” Reeves said. “They like Buffalo because it’s the one contest that has two contests in a weekend.”
The two eating competitions in Buffalo are the Buffalo Buffet Competitive Eating Contest, which this year’s is on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 5:30 p.m., and the United States Wing Eating Championship, which is on Sunday at 5 p.m.
The one feeling that makes competitive eating special to Reeves is the camaraderie at the event. And when it comes to the Buffalo Wing Festival in early September, the Reeves Wreckers, “Buffalo” Jim’s Jungle or whatever Jim Reeves’ supporters would like to call themselves, the group will rejoice and cheer on the hometown hero as Reeves competes with Western New York pride.
“It’s awesome man. They pretty much know I am not going to win; you’re eating against the top eaters in the world,” Reeves admits. “But I’ve placed before. I have placed in the buffet bowl. In fact, the first year of the buffet bowl, I finished second by .07 of a pound to (Ed) “Cookie” Jarvis, who in those days was one of the best eaters in the world.
“But with wings, it’s not a capacity thing, it’s only about four or five pounds of food, which isn’t even on my radar. I never finish full, but the problem is I can’t chew and swallow as fast as those guys. But when you’re chewing on that stage and there are 20,000 people in the stadium and they’re all cheering, it’s a blast. It’s fun for them, it’s fun for us.”