The Chickwich Challenge

The Chickwich Challenge has been called many things: legendary, the pinnacle of competitive eating and athleticism, disgusting.
By Brian A. Feldman, Julia K. Nguyen, Delphine Rodrik, and Andrew A. White

Fifteen Minutes presents you with the 2012 Chickwich Challenge: 12 dining halls, 108 chicken patties, five teams, one race for eternal fame and glory. Join us as we follow the (throw)ups and (scarf)downs of Eric R. Brewster ’14, Matthew S. Chuchul ’13, Laura E. D’Asaro ’13, Richard K. Fegelman ’13, Philip M. Gillen ’13, Christine J. Hu ’13, Adam B. Kern ’13, Avery A. Leonard ’14, Andrew K. Murray ’13, and Tobi T. Tikolo ’14 as they lay their stomachs on the line in the name of all that is unidentifiable meat. The rules of the athletic contest, which started in the Cabot dining hall and ended at the Eliot servery, are straightforward: Each team must eat its way across campus, devouring two golden discs of processed delight in each dining hall along the way.

Without further ado, let the games begin.



For all the words that have been used to describe Chickwich Challenge, “a gentleman’s game” has never been among them. That is, until Philip Michael “The Chickwich” Gillen and Adam Burchfield “Leg Man” Kern stroll into the Cabot dining hall at promptly “noon-thirty” on competition day.

Gillen stands smartly in a navy suit and bright red bow tie, his leather shoes gleaming in the midday sun. He seems comfortable in his incongruous chickwiching attire, which stands in sharp contrast to his athletically-outfitted opponents. Kern, in similar dress, cradles a bottle of red wine.

“These suits are fully functional,” says Kern in a vaguely British accent as bystanders take notice of their odd dress. “All weather, all terrain, we’re ready.”


Brewster and Leonard’s motivation for participating in the Chickwich Challenge is unclear, though what is certain is that they do not intend to take this competition seriously.

While other competitors have shown up in running gear or coordinated outfits, Brewster is wearing a terry-cloth shirt, orange gym shorts, boat shoes, and—despite the midday sun—a head lamp. “If there’s a power outage,” he explains matter-of-factly.

In a red winter coat and heeled clogs, Leonard looks as if she could just as soon be walking to class as to an eating contest.

The two are members of the Harvard Generalist, a student group dedicated to artistic content that aims to bridge the gap between performer and audience, and—before the competition has even started—it’s clear that the pair are treating the Challenge as a stage for some type of performance art.

There’s no semblance of a strategy. “Can you carry me?” Brewster casually asks his cohort.

“Probably,” she responds, explaining that she feels up to the task since she spends a lot of time hauling around scrap metal for art pieces. She is probably being facetious here, but it’s tough to be sure.


Clad in tight “K-Force” t-shirts, black athletic shorts, Under Armour sweatbands, and knee highs (courtesy of their Quidditch uniforms), D’Asaro and Murray are prepared to eat their way across campus, one dining hall at a time. While Murray appears anxious, D’Asaro is energetic, springing into a back flip in the Quad Yard as she and Murray walk to Cabot House.

“We shared a watermelon this morning to help stretch our stomachs. It’s low in calories and high-volume,” D’Asaro says, explaining their strategy. “Most competitive eaters do this. We did some research.”

With small white and yellow pedometers clipped to their shorts, they reason that running to each of the Houses will help, in a small way, to counteract their gluttony.

“We’re going to do our best and help one another,” D’Asaro says. “It’s all about supporting each other.”


It’s 12:36 p.m. when Tikolo orders his first chickwich—or two, actually, the second for his partner, Fegelman. Tikolo rests his elbow on the grill’s counter, chatting casually with the other contestants. In a white sweatband, button-up shirt (sans bow tie), and loafers, he’s dressed down for the occasion.

“We’re in this for the headbands,” Fegelman says, grinning at Tikolo, “and for the friendship.”

A few seconds later, Fegelman disappears without a word. Tikolo searches for his partner, who he later learns has run ahead to order two chickwiches in Currier and Pforzheimer in advance. “I’ve got this guy’s proverbial back,” Fegelman says. Tikolo laughs, and Fegelman continues: “I’m just dishing these lines out, no pun intended.”



It’s “Go!’ and the Challenge begins. Leonard waits for the first chickwiches in Cabot as Brewster runs to place grill orders at the other two Quad houses in an improvised divide-and-conquer strategy.

When he returns, the two take their first bites. “They’re so dry!” Brewster complains. “They’re so bad without buns or mustard,” Leonard adds.

After Cabot, the pair splits up. Brewster goes to Pforzheimer to eat the two chickwiches he has ordered, while Leonard goes to Currier to do the same.

“We don’t believe in phones,” Leonard explains as she walks into Currier. It’s an arbitrary restriction that will make coordination much more difficult.

“How much sabotage is too much sabotage?” she asks, eyeing two chickwiches sitting on the counter in Currier, seemingly unaware that the plate is meant for her.

After a trip to the soda machine, she finally figures it out. “Oh, maybe he already ordered! These might be his!”

“I think it’s impossible to eat without a bun,” Leonard posits, also giving faint praise to the patties’ “wonderful, ambiguous, processed consistency.”

Before splitting up, Brewster had said that he would meet Leonard back in Currier, but he hasn’t shown up yet. “I’m very worried,” Leonard says. “We’re both full of empty promises.”

He shows up shortly afterwards, and supports Leonard by eating half of her chickwich, dipping the patty in water for easier eating. By their math, he has eaten three-and-a-half chickwiches, and Avery has eaten two-and-a-half. Six down, 18 to go.


“They’re so hot!” D’Asaro exclaims mid-mouthful.

The pair tear their oily, sizzling slabs of meat into pieces before wolfing them down. After busing their plates and glasses, they sprint to Pfoho, stopping twice to ask for directions before finding the dining hall. As D’Asaro orders, Murray scrambles to get glasses of water and a plate of ketchup.

“Good teamwork, Andrew,” D’Asaro cheers.

She bounces on the balls of her feet as the grill chef deposits a fresh plate of chickwiches on the counter. Glancing at the grill receipt, she discovers that the chickwiches belong to another team.

“I don’t want to steal the chickwiches,” D’Asaro says, putting the plate aside.


Gillen saunters past his competitors—or his “fellow chickwich enthusiasts,” as the pair prefer to call them—announcing with a guffaw that he has already swiped.

While waiting for their first plates, the team has questions about the International Chickwich Committee (ICC) and its policy on buns. However, noting that the Chickwich Challenge is a private event not regulated by the ICC, they decide to forgo buns, remaining “chickwich purists.”

The coveted sandwiches arrive shortly thereafter, and the pair collect their supplies: two plates, two glasses, and enough cutlery to supply each of their fellow enthusiasts with the proper utensils for a proper meal.

“I should probably Purell real quick” says Gillen, taking a moment to clean his hands before sitting down to the first patty of the day.

Once seated, Kern uncorks the bottle of wine.

“Nothing puts me in the mood for a chickwich like a spunky Shiraz,” says Kern, sipping from a glass of his six-dollar bottle and remarking on its “complicated” aroma.

The 2010 Shiraz is the preferred wine for chickwich consumption, by the team’s consensus. A Chardonnay would have been Kern’s second choice, as the wine would “bring out the hidden underbelly” of the chickwich, with a ’95 Malbec (a “great year”) coming in at a close third.

Cutting into the patties with care, each raises a piece in toast: “This is the first bite of a new life,” proposes Gillen.

As Gillen takes his third bite, their opponents are already off to the next house. Seeing their fellow enthusiasts depart, Gillen grows concerned. “Why is everyone leaving so quickly?” he ponders. “It’s just rude.”


By the time the two chickwiches Tikolo had ordered at Cabot are prepared, Fegelman is back and ready for action.

“This is disgusting,” Fegelman says, dissecting the chickwich without looking at it. Noticing a camera, he pauses. “I’m self-conscious when I eat.”

Leonard remarks on the bareness of the team’s chickwiches—no condiments or spices, nothing. “You can’t eat the same of one thing 12 times,” she says.

“Watch me,” Fegelman jokingly retaliates.

Within five minutes, the team has downed their first chickwiches and is headed to Currier.

There, they pick up their orders without a word and eat on the go, leaving their empty plates by the salad bar and taking their last bites by the soda fountain. They grimace, fanning the chickwiches to cool them off.

In Pfoho, a dining hall worker says that three other teams have already left. Tikolo, who had committed to the Challenge without a complete understanding of its rules, isn’t too happy with his third chickwich: “I thought we only had to eat six,” he says, laughing in disbelief.

Fegelman is not ecstatic either, commenting on the poor quality of this particular chickwich. “This is the worst,” he says while inspecting the greasy composition. “It’s kind of crumbly, not ideal. What really freaks me out is how homogenous it is on the inside.”



In the sanctuary of the shuttle, Leonard comments on the chickwich’s standing in the vast oeuvre of HUDS chicken products. “It’s pretty much one of the most bland chicken dishes.”

The pair will split up again, as Leonard tackles Lowell and Adams and Brewster heads to Leverett and Quincy. As they pass J.P. Licks, one suggests getting ice cream after the competition.

In Leverett, Brewster notes that the chickwich pales in comparison to barbeque chicken, teriyaki chicken, and red spice chicken. “The chickwich falls right in between chicken tenders and chicken nuggets,” he contends.

The patties are beginning to get the better of him. He has been searching for mustard in every dining hall, trying to find something to help the fried food go down easier. “The crust is terrible,” he scoffs, convinced that “they gave me some extra large ones.”

In Quincy, Brewster grabs two patties and heads over to the condiments bar, ecstatic to find mustard. “This is why we live in Quincy,” he says before globbing some on. Eyeing a fellow diner’s lunch, he shakes his head in grief. “Grilled cheese looks so good right now.”

Before leaving the dining hall, Brewster gets a phone call, and it is clear from their conversation that the person on the other end is Leonard. When asked what happened to their self-imposed “no phones” rule, Brewster replies, “She’s such a flip-flopper. She’d be a good politician.”


The team uses the shuttle ride to plan their optimal route through the nine river Houses, finally deciding to start in Adams. “Disgusting,” an onlooker in Adams says as he watches Murray shove a whole chickwich into a glass of water.

Murray tips the glass over as he tries to fish out an elusive chunk of chickwich, inadvertently spilling water across the table and onto the floor. He apologizes, taking a brief moment to survey the damage before running to Quincy. Their pace slows significantly when the chickwiches in Lowell take several minutes to cook. D’Asaro welcomes the wait.


Lingering in Cabot long after their competitors have departed, the polished pair decide it’s time to make the journey to Currier, but not before stopping outside to top off their glasses. “As for our strategem, the wine has a lot to do with it,” says Gillen, sipping his cup.

As they enter Currier jovially—debating an aspect of chickwich philosophy—their competition is already on their way out. Politely inquiring how the enthusiasts enjoyed their second chickwiches, the pair is unprepared for the response: “It was disgusting.”

Gillen can hardly believe his ears. “If you’re not in this for a love of chickwiches,” he ponders, offended, “what are you here for?”

Downstairs, the pair sit down with Caleb J. Thompson ’14, a Crimson Arts editor. Once the sandwiches are prepared and the wine poured, dining resumes.

“The wine does help a bit,” remarks Thompson, hesitantly. “Fuck me, this is disgusting.”

“Perhaps not a match made in heaven,” agrees Kern, “but a match made in Chile.”

Pfoho comes next, where the pair chooses to occupy the coveted love seat on the upper level, overseeing the rest of the dining hall.

“Do you see any chickwiches?” asks Kern, surveying those seated below them. “Ah, there’s some...oh no, just nuggets.”

“A nugget is but half a chickwich, and half a chickwich is not worth my time,” replies Gillen, forking another morsel into his mouth.

Over the course of the competition, the pair revels in their knowledge of chickwich history. In Pfoho, Gillen discusses the Make a ChickWish Foundation and toasts “to the children” in recognition of all the fine work the organization does. In a rare lapse of character, Kern almost chokes on his chickwich.


Reinvigorated by a walk through the Square, Fegelman and Tikolo progress from Adams to Lowell. In their second River House, the pair wonders whether they’ve accidentally grabbed the wrong plate—both chickwiches have buns and are supplemented with cheese. But there’s no looking back; they peel off the cheese and toss the buns, eating slowly, seriously, in silence. When asked if they want Powerade, they simply nod, miserable. Unlike water, they say, it takes away the chickwich taste.

From here the team splits up again: Tikolo to Winthrop and Fegelman to Quincy.

They meet in Quincy with newfound confidence, describing themselves as “pretty pumped” and “ready to rage.” But such enthusiasm is short-lived.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” Fegelman asks the newly solemn Tikolo. “They have grilled cheese today. I actually like that.”

Both teammates are staring at the floor, taking slow bites: “It’s in my mouth, but I can’t swallow it.”



Brewster and Leonard each grab their final chickwich. One bite in, Brewster remembers that he had eaten half of Leonard’s chickwich in Currier. “You owe me that half,” he says, handing her another portion of fried, processed chicken.

They clink their final bites together before popping them in their mouths. They’ve finished the Chickwich Challenge, and by all accounts, they appear to have finished the race in first place.

The victory is unexpected. The very tactics that should have undermined them seemed to have enabled them to succeed with no vomiting, no jogging, and only minimal whining. The team that arguably took the contest the least seriously also managed to take first place.

The nonchalance that the pair displayed throughout the entire contest did not lend any insight to what drove them to victory. At an impromptu awards ceremony on the MAC quad, Leonard deadpans, “We worked for the victories of poets, artists, and writers everywhere.”


In Eliot at last, the team finishes their final chickwiches with determination, though Brewster and Leonard had already completed the task. Although they lost the race, the duo are in good spirits. They make plans to hang out that afternoon, both deciding to forgo dinner.

“We’re proud of each other,” D’Asaro says, slinging her arm around her teammate and smiling.


With the end of their chickwiching in sight, another friend accosts the pair. “Are you wearing a grey suit on a Saturday?” the passerby asks Kern. “I knew there was a reason I didn’t like you.”

Unperturbed, the men climb the stairs to Eliot dining hall, finding their final chickwiches waiting for them on the center table. Wishing to appreciate their final bites to the fullest, Kern comes up with a daring plan: the last chickwiches will be garnished with peanut butter and blueberry tart frozen yogurt.

“And if I throw up, I’m blaming you,” Gillen warns his teammate.

Sitting down to their meal, each man cuts a slice, hooks a suit-clad arm around the other’s, and begins the sixth and final chickwich of their Challenge.

“This is the best chickwich I’ve ever had today. I don’t even want to swallow it—it’s so good,” declares Gillen.

“Victory tastes like peanut butter and fried chicken. It also tastes a bit like shame, to be honest,” he adds.

“It’s a good thing I can die happy now, because I’m about to die,” sighs a contented Kern.

Surrounded by fellow enthusiasts, the Challenge finally behind them, Gillen smiles. “I think we are all winners today.”


Fegelman meets Tikolo in Eliot, where their competitors have already finished the contest. The team, unfortunately, has lost, but Tikolo is still at the Eliot grill, where the chef has agreed to make the last two chickwiches of the day. Fegelman offers to eat Tikolo’s (“You drank a chickwich for me, man!”), but Tikolo refuses.

The team eats their final chickwiches in solidarity as lunch comes to a close in the near-abandoned Eliot dining hall. Skipping Powerade, they pour themselves water and carry their plates out of the servery. “Shall we?” Tikolo asks, and together they sit down at a center table, leaning back in their chairs to examine what will be not only their final chickwiches for the day, but possibly their final chickwiches for good. The grease glistens in the sunlight from the window. How does it taste? “Like freedom,” Fegelman says.

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