Lutefisk Eating Contest draws large crowd during Viking Fest

POULSBO — Twelve brave contestants lined up in Kvelstad Pavilion at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park May 22. Behind them, Viking Fest royalty stood in support as the first tray of lutefisk arrived. With pitchers of water at their side and a half-pound of lye-soaked cod each, the annual Lutefisk Eating Contest began. And for more than half of the competitors, the contest was over in less than two minutes.

"It was like a combination of rotten eggs and rotten fish," competitor Alex Wright said.

It was Wright's first time eating lutefisk. He took third place, winning $25.

Along with Wright, Pete Bunich and Eric Perkins would hold on until the end. Perkins, the reigning lutefisk champion, lost his title to Bunich after conceding in the eighth round.

Bunich won the grand prize of $75. Perkins took second and $50.

Bunich and Perkins ate about 4 pounds of lutefisk each. A typical dinner portion of lutefisk is usually about a half-pound — a little more if someone really likes it, cook Tony Smallbeck said.

The contest consisted of an unlimited number of two-minute rounds. Each contestant received a plastic bag of lutefisk, which had to be consumed in the allotted time. After consuming the food, each contestant had to open his or her mouth to prove all the lutefisk was gone.

A tray submerged in hot water was used to keep the lutefisk hot.

"It's all right when it’s warm," Perkins said. Cold lutefisk is much more difficult to swallow, he added.

Lutefisk is a traditional dish in Nordic countries. It's made from aged whitefish and lye. The final product has a gelatin texture.

For Bunich, the lutefisk was not a problem, as long as the pieces were not too large. The competitors tried to chew as little as possible.

"Chewing makes it so much harder," Bunich said.

From lutefisk to oysters

Though she did not fare well in the lutefisk-eating competition, Maggie Baker's oyster-eating performance drew applause from the entire crowd.

Baker ate 38 oysters in two minutes to become the winner of the first Oyster Eating Contest, sponsored by The Loft. Walking away with a gift certificate, Baker said it was the lutefisk, in part, that made the oysters go down easily.

"Nothing could be as bad as the lutefisk," she said.

Four Loft employees shucked 27 dozen oysters in one hour for the contest. Head Chef Michael Buholz plans on returning next year.

"We're definitely going to sponsor this again, this was a lot of fun," he said.

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