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Five pounds of ‘fisk has Perkins purging

POULSBO — Charles Jensen may have been sporting the worst haircut in lutefisk eating contest history but his shaved noggin — with a square patch of hair and a miniature braid on its back — appears to have provided an aerodynamic edge at the plate.

In a competition that will go down in lutefisk lore as an instant classic, the new “do,” a hefty size advantage and an iron-lined belly was all that was necessary to clinch a second consecutive win.

But before Jensen could dance away with victory, he faced 10 challengers who were almost as hungry as him.

Eleven contestants stepped into the frenzied atmosphere at Kvelstad Pavilion Sunday afternoon, all with hopes of earning the coveted title of the 2004 lutefisk champ. New faces and a mix of hardened veterans lined the plastic covered table accented with “Love that Lutefisk” place mats. A lightning round and about a minute and a half of table manners that would make most mothers cringe quickly pared the number to three.

After being ousted in the speed round in 2003, veteran Eric Perkins said he had made a few adjustments to ensure the same would not happen this year.

“There’s a change in my game plan — eat faster,” the former champ explained. “I was using the chop-it-into-little-pieces method last year. This year it’ll be the tip-the-plate method.”

It worked and Perkins, who was barely beat by new comer Dara Speer last year, advanced with her and Jensen into the long haul toward the title.

“I only eat it once a year. That’s all I need,” he explained.

Speer was all smiles at blasting by the “boys” in round one and gave a big congratulatory hug to Jensen as they took a breather before chowing into the second half pound.

“I’ve been eating lutefisk since I was little,” she said. “It’s an acquired taste.”

Despite a great recipe from New Day Fisheries, the plastic bucket made it’s way to the table by round three. A definite sign of things to come. Or come up, as the case proved to be.

“It gets better every year,” Perkins told Jensen before the trio started in on their third half-pound helping.

“Yeah it does,” Jensen agreed.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Perkins added.

“You’ve been doing it 15 years?” Jensen asked.

“Yeah, and I’m not even Norwegian,” Perkins quipped.

Jensen continued his gluttonous pace, picking up whole pieces of the codfish and dropping them into his gullet. While Perkins was busy licking his plate clean, Speer’s rosy cheeks were beginning to turn shades of green.

The fact that she was working her way through one and half pounds of lye-soaked cod was setting in. The smell was getting to her.

Holding her nose while eating and thanks to encouragement from her competitors, Speer finished round three.

At the break, she was rubbing her belly as if the fisk was trying to tell her something. It was. It’s almost time to resurface.

Could Jensen keep up the pace? Would Perkins slow-and-steady method pay off? Would Speer hurl? These questions and countless others were certainly running through the minds of spectators who gathered around the pavilion for the finest in Norwegian drama.

Speer continued into round four followed by applause and wild shouts of encouragement but three minutes in she spit up on her plate and pushed it away. Then, like a drunken auction bidder who doesn’t realize that she should stop raising the price, Speer started in on her plate again before going for the bucket and out of the contest.

Her urge to purge, set up a David-and-Goliath scenario that would continue for five more rounds of “family fun.”

Three pounds.

Three and a half.

Four pounds. Four pounds of lye-soaked cod in their bellies. Jensen was on the brink of traveling into uncharted waters.

When asked how much they’d scarfed down during past contests, the two had varying answers but had truly tossed back enough codfish in one setting to be considered titans of the game.

“I’m not sure. I think five pounds,” Jensen said.

“I think I ate six pounds once,” Perkins said. “That was my second or third year.”

At this point it was clear that crowds were witnessing the pinnacle of lutefisk eating. Two marathon runners who had long left the sprinters eating lye-soaked dust in a long-distance journey that would have worn out Forrest Gump.

Four and a half.

“You look a little full there buddy,” Jensen joked to a smiling Perkins.

Five pounds. Round 10. No matter whether you slice your lutefisk or eat it whole, five pounds is a whole lot of fish.

Nevertheless, Jensen downed his half pound in under three minutes.

Perkins’ pace had slowed considerably. Four minutes had passed, the one-minute warning was announced.

Seconds after feigning a gag and cleaning his plate, Perkins was primed for the real thing and tossed about a pound of ‘fisk into the bucket.

Jensen had won his second consecutive title. When asked how much he weighed and whether his size played a part in the win, the giant was coy.

“I ain’t telling,” he remarked. “More than 100.”

Despite just being physically ill, Perkins was still jovial when posed with the same question.

“Right now?” he joked. “Normally, I weigh about 195 but after that I figure I’m up to 200.”

Maybe more like 199.

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