In the beginning, Toph Whisnant felt as confident as he appeared.
He walked out of his office wearing his good, clean WacoFork T-shirt, an Alabama ball cap and aviator sunglasses that only added to his general bearing of determination.
Just two weeks ago, Whisnant asked about the availability of food challenges in Waco. He was promptly presented with and accepted the challenge of Burgers Galore's "The Beast," a three-pound feast of beef, cheese and toasted bun. Whisnant said he has no desire to venture into the "sport" of competitive eating. A Southern man, though, he doesn't back down from a challenge. He seeks them out.
He said, in the beginning, he felt he had a 60 percent chance of devouring "The Beast." Within 12 minutes of sitting in front of the noble burger, however, that number had fallen to close to zero.
Whisnant, Caleb Roberts and I ventured to Burgers Galore in Lacy Lakeview on a fact-finding mission. None of us had dined at BG previously, so obviously we never encountered "The Beast" either. Whatever a three-pound cheeseburger looks like in your mind's eye, it looks a heck of a lot bigger once you've taken a bite of one.
Burgers Galore's "The Beast" challenge works like this: three pounds of burger which, if consumed without leaving the table, entitles the food champion to a free meal during the next visit and free drinks for life. Jennifer Cockrell, BG's jovial cashier and daughter of owner Don Patterson, hosted and officiated the burger challenge on Friday. Just before Whisnant began eating, she brought over the "Kwentin Barrell," essentially a trash can named after a particularly unfortunate challenge participant. That kind of put things in perspective.
While Roberts and I happily chowed down on our burgers — non-Beasts — onion rings and tots, Whisnant began work. He threw down the first quarter of "The Beast," which was helpfully divided into quadrants, in five minutes. At 11 minutes, halfway to the 22-minute time record for consumption of a Beast, Whisnant was still chewing at a pace toward completion.
Hopes began to rise that he could take a thrilling shot at that mark.
But it should be noted that the record-holder, along with most of the photos of past beast conquerers, looked like offensive linemen. Whisnant is built more like a defensive back.
At 15 minutes, Whisnant's pace slowed down considerably. We kept thinking he was ready to break into the second half, but he sat there, for almost half an hour it seemed, with one remaining bite of quadrant No. 2 still sitting in his basket.
"The first couple of bites, that crisp, buttery taste of the bun combined with the burger was delicious," Whisnant said. "But after a while, it's too rich."
Whisnant pointed out that he had eaten eight patties by the time he finished quadrant No. 2. But at that stage, the buttery flavor kept him from wanting to stuff his belly. At 42 minutes, just two bites into quadrant No. 3, he tapped out.
He directed Roberts and me to take a bite of the remaining quadrant. He was right, the bun and burger presented a tasty combination. But the sheer volume of ground beef made chewing one bite a bit of a chore.
No disrespect. "The Beast" is aptly named.
However, Whisnant was not soured on food challenges. He said he still wants to tackle the famous 72-ounce steak at The Big Texan in Amarillo. And he said this initial foray into the food challenge taught him some valuable lessons.
But it could be a while before he digests all of it.
One more bite: Whisnant has a long way to go to match one of Friday's spectators at Burgers Galore. I met a gentleman called Dave from Massachusetts who claimed to have once upon a time eaten 14 dozen oysters. Dave wore a handlebar mustache and a Hawaiian shirt. He looked like a man who could put away a few oysters. Dave said he watched a television show featuring an oyster challenge. The man in the show, apparently, consumed 477 oysters in an hour. Dave claimed he could shatter that record and put the new record out of reach in an hour.