The way to a man’s stomach is through his heart.
A rejuvenated Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is ready to reclaim the glorious Mustard Belt at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island. The eight-year winning streak of the hot-dog eating legend came to an end last year — because of a broken heart, he told this newspaper.
At the start of the 2014 contest — before scarfing down 61 wieners and buns in 10 minutes for his eighth straight win — Chestnut popped the question to his girlfriend and fellow competitive eater Neslie Ricasa. She said yes. But like ketchup on a hot dog, the duo didn’t work, and they broke up right before the 2015 competition, said 32-year-old Chestnut.
“We broke up before July 4 last year, that’s why it sucked, one of the reasons why. We both got cold feet and the wedding was coming up and we just weren’t getting along,” he said. “I’m definitely in a lot better place than I was last year in so many ways. I feel really good this year. I’m actually really healthy. I’ve lost weight, I’ve been running and working out. My body is probably in the best shape it’s ever been in.”
Chestnut, a native Californian, has been practicing extensively over the past year to prepare himself for the fierce competition against fellow Californian Matt “Megatoad” Stonie, who stole the Mustard Belt right out of his jaws. The once-undefeated wiener-eater is confident he can take back the throne, but knows he cannot afford to get cocky — Stonie has showed some serious talent, said Chestnut.
“I’m pretty confident, I think I can do it. If I’m close to what I’m capable of, it shouldn’t be a problem. I can’t underestimate Stonie, he’s a great eater,” he said. “He’s surprised me in the past.”
From the moment Chestnut shoves that first frank and bun into his mouth, he just keeps focused on his rhythm, and makes sure his whole body — from his mind down to his digestive tract — are in sync, he said.
“I think about all the little things that help me find my rhythm — the breathing, and standing up straight, and remembering to ‘chew, chew, chew,’ ” Chestnut said. “And don’t get lax and try to swallow big chunks because then my throat gets tired. Just try to find that perfect rhythm, get all my muscles working together in my throat, my esophagus. And don’t focus on the taste of the food.”
But Chestnut loves the taste of Nathan’s Famous frankfurters — he would just prefer some condiments thrown on top, he said.
“I don’t like ‘em, I love ‘em! They are the best hot dog without a doubt, they really are,” said Chestnut. “I like them multiple ways. Raw onions and mustard, I like that quite a bit, but I’ll put anything on a hot dog — cole slaw, sauerkraut, bacon, cheese.”
Chestnut cannot wait to start chowing down and to reclaim his title on Independence Day, he said.
“I am going to do everything I can,” Chestnut said. “I feel like I’m in a really good place this year. And I feel like it’s going to happen.”
Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest [1310 Surf Ave. between Stillwell Avenue and W. 15th Street in Coney Island, (718) 333–2202, www.natha