Amanda Lentini preemptively munched on berry-flavored Tums on a recent Monday evening.
The petite, 23-year-old blonde admitted to not liking beer and being lactose-intolerant as she eyed her competition: eight middle-aged men drinking beer around a linen-draped pool table littered with white latex gloves at the North Naples Country Club.
She was proud that she had mustered the guts to try and out-eat the men. But she broke into an anxiety-induced sweat when she discovered she had been misinformed — the chicken wing eating contest would not be a measure of how much she could consume, but how much spice she could endure.
“I need more Tums,” Lentini said.
Mike Combs, owner of the bar, estimates that only 1 out of 50 people can finish an order of his spicy chicken wings. And for this contest, he’s taken it up a notch by dusting them with ground ghost chili peppers.
Also known as Bhut jolokia, the ghost chilies are thumb-sized peppers from northeastern India. They are considered to be hottest peppers in the world — 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce and more than 100 times hotter than jalapeno peppers; so hot that the Indian military weaponized the peppers earlier this year. Now an Indian soldier can lob a non-lethal grenade armed with the ghost chili to disperse a crowd, or reduce a hostage-taking terrorist to weeping, slobbering resignation.
After the competitors signed liability waivers and put on their rubber gloves, Combs barked out advice: “Do not touch your eyes! Do not touch your face! Do not go to the bathroom and touch any sensitive areas!”
The contest starts and the scene descends into a masochistic rendition of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
Richard Fowler, second from left, a sweating, paunchy 41-year-old Naples resident and veteran of the bar’s hot wings, breathed through his sauce-smeared mouth and his bloodshot eyes began to resemble a New Jersey roadmap.
Lentini, not pictured, who said earlier that the hottest food she can handle are Cajun-spiced french fries, shook her head after several wings and dropped out.
Three dozen onlookers laughed, jeered and hollered advice between swigs of beer to the demoralized contestants perspiring behind the small mounds of bones, gristle and red stained Handi Wipes.
Gabe Whitney, right, a stout, round-faced beer distributor from Naples, found himself to be the last man eating. He raised his hands in triumph, then grabbed a pitcher of Bud Light and guzzled.
“You don’t stop. You just deal with the pain. And there was pain,” Whitney said after the contest. “I’ve got to go home and get some Tucks and some ice cream.”
When asked how he could voluntarily eat the ghost chili-blanketed wings, Whitney smiled.
“According to my wife, I’m dead from the neck up.”
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Connect with Tristan Spinski at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tristin-spinski/