Jan. 27, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
Sitting back in his chair, eyes growing wider, Nate Lessard nervously inhaled as his challenger approached the table. Grinning apprehensively, Lessard stared down the beast approaching him. How he was going to defeat his adversary, he didn’t know. But fight he would.
Lessard’s opponent? A 5-pound calzone, stuffed with sausage, pepperoni, chicken, pizza sauce and piles of oozing mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.
“Oh my God, look at that thing,” Lessard said before plunging a fork and knife into the calzone’s steaming crust.
Lessard was among the first to attempt a new food competition, known as the Cal-Mungo Challenge, at Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza on Friday, Jan. 21. To win the competition and get a picture on Ramunto’s Wall of Fame, eaters have 45 minutes to finish a 5-pound calzone containing at least three ingredients. Successful eaters win a free T-shirt and don’t have to pay for the meal. Competitors who fail must pay for the calzone — and suffer the indignity of having a photo placed on the Wall of Shame.
“I think the key is to eat it fast because once the cheese cools and hardens, it’ll become a lot harder to finish,” said Jeff Paul, Ramunto’s co-owner and Cal-Mungo creator.
The Cal-Mungo Challenge is the latest in a popular line of gastronomic feats sweeping the nation, Paul said. He created the challenge after watching “Man v. Food” on the Travel Channel.
In “Man v. Food,” host Adam Richman travels across the United States attempting mega-burgers competitions, hot chicken wing challenges and more. Richman has not visited Vermont yet, and Paul hopes the Cal-Mungo Challenge will bring the show to the Champlain Valley. Better yet, he hopes Richman visits personally and attempts to eat the 5-pound calzone.
“We’re still trying to establish ourselves more in the (Burlington) market and the Cal-Mungo is already starting to generate buzz,” Paul said.
The first challenge
Lessard attempted the Cal-Mungo Challenge as part of a live radio broadcast for WNMR 107.1 The Game. The sports talk radio station set up a live remote at Ramunto’s as part of a debut for a new show called “José and the Ref,” hosted by José Pino and Lessard.
Lessard wasn’t alone in attempting the challenge: Colchester resident and station contributor David Ploof attacked his veggie calzone with vigor. Ploof believed he held the advantage because the vegetables would prove less heavy and more water-soluble than Lessard’s meat-filled calzone.
“It’s all in the strategy,” Ploof said between mouthfuls. “I think I’ve got a real chance.”
While Ploof and Lessard wolfed down their calzones at a steady pace, Pino provided a play-by-play of sorts and WNMR general manager Rich DeLancey roamed Ramunto’s with a microphone interviewing the crowd. Like many in the packed restaurant, Pino expressed shock at the gargantuan nature of the Cal-Mungo.
“It looks like you could feed a family of five, six, seven people for a week,” Pino said.
Cheered on by friends and diners, Lessard and Ploof ceaselessly consumed their calzones. Ploof decided to pick away at the Cal-Mungo from the left side; Lessard sliced his calzone in two, cutting half of it into bite-size pieces. But the sheer bulk of the Cal-Mungo quickly became a stumbling block for both.
Pale-faced and exhausted, Lessard threw in the towel 20 minutes into the challenge. Paul was there with his digital camera to capture the first face to appear on the Wall of Shame.
“Like Bernie Williams in the outfield, he’s hit the wall,” DeLancey proclaimed from the crowd.
“All that cheese and all that meat I had definitely worked against me,” Lessard said.
Ploof slowed down, but refused to quit. At least not for a few minutes after Lessard lost the challenge. After realizing he had finished half the Cal-Mungo in 30 minutes, Ploof called it a day. He figured it would be impossible to finish in another 15 minutes.
“I’m done, I’ve hit the wall three times already,” Ploof said.
Even though Lessard and Ploof came up short, Paul credited them as “trailblazers” and hoped others would attempt the Cal-Mungo. By the end of the WNMR broadcast, Paul had a third taker: DeLancey pledged that he would return to Ramunto’s, the next time as a competitor.
“I’m going to be like LeBron James and take my talents to Williston,” he said.