Steer clear of soda and beer if you’re looking to hit the buffet hard. “I definitely wouldn’t recommend walking into the meal doing a boot chug,” Booker warns. Instead, opt for juice, wine, or your best option, water, as your drink du jour. Because he’s a pro at the art of eating, Booker will often drink an entire gallon of water the night before a competition to stretch his stomach, but he wouldn’t advise this tactic for the average eater. (Drinking too much water can dilute sodium in the body, causing hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition.) He also stretches his stomach by consuming vast quantities of cabbage, but this isn’t advisable for overeating amateurs, either.
Just as Booker is finishing up his soup, the turkey dinner platters arrive, along with a glass of lemonade (noncarbonated, of course). He does his signature “it’s go time” move and flips his black Yankees hat backwards, then surveys the platters before starting what he refers to as “the pilgrimage of the plate.”
Before the official start of the pilgrimage, Booker likes to sample a little bite of everything on his plate. He hoists a forkful of turkey to his mouth, then moves on to the stuffing, followed by a small bite of the candied yams, then the cranberry sauce, and finally a taste of the giblet gravy. Content with the platters’ offerings, Booker kick-starts his pilgrimage by tackling all of the candied yams then continuing around the plate, leaving the turkey for last.
“The whole goal is to know what foods to attack first,” he explains, washing down each bite with a swig of lemonade. “Some foods will make you sleepy earlier in the meal, and you don’t want to have to stop after only one plate.”
Booker’s bottom-line advice: Get your fill of side salads and nonturkey proteins first, and then tackle the carbs and turkey. And when piling up your plate for the first round, always take even portions of everything so you can really load up on your favorite dishes in round two. “You have to be careful with turkey and chicken because of tryptophan. It’ll put you to sleep, so you save those for last,” Booker advises. (He notes that his approach to the carb-centric Thanksgiving meal is slightly different from the strategy he’d take with something like a churrasco, when he’d attack the meats first.) If we were at Booker’s Thanksgiving table, the champ says he’d “hit the ham or meatloaf first, and then the candied yams or stuffing,” since the side dishes are his favorites.
With just a few bites left on each platter, our waitress slides slices of red velvet cake and apple pie across the table. “You really just have to be hungry and focused when you’re eating Thanksgiving dinner,” he says. “Sometimes, when you’re in a competition, you get to the point where you start enjoying the food, and then you fall behind.”
The waitress reaches to clear Booker’s plates. “Oh, no, no. I’m not done with that,” he says. At this point we’ve attracted an audience at the Tick Tock Diner. Tourists and locals alike rubberneck to see the spectacle. “I know you from somewhere,” the waitress finally confesses. “You’re from the hot dog eating contest!” Booker smiles and nods before taking another bite.