Germantown Mom Has an Insatiable Appetite for Competition

Standing just over five feet tall and weighing just over 100 pounds, Juliet Lee is an unlikely champ on the competitive eating circuit.
By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Juliet Lee's first bite of the day is a doozy. With elegant little fingers, she jams half a beefsteak tomato into a mouth that looks better sized for an olive on a toothpick. Only by leaning over does she spare her satin blouse from a jet of seedy juice.

And this isn't even for money.

"I get hungry in the evening time," says Lee. At least, that's what it sounds like through the garble of tomato pulp. "I could eat 20 tomatoes."

She's not exaggerating. Standing just over 5 feet tall and weighing slightly over 100 pounds, Lee has a quirk for which she is becoming increasingly famous: being a diminutive beauty with the appetite of a linebacker.

Lee, a 44-year-old Germantown mother of two and a busy hair salon owner, is also the 11th-highest-ranked professional competitive eater in the world. The weekdays she spends logging minivan miles to school events and tending to other people's hair are followed by weekends filled with inhuman quantities of food, not so much eaten as shoved down her esophagus under strictly timed conditions. This yoga-practicing suburbanite, who wears size zero jeans and shops the junior racks at Kohl's, has eaten, for example, 34 hot dogs, 48 tamales, 22 pork barbecue sandwiches and nearly five dozen miniature hamburgers. All within minutes.

Find that hard to swallow? Try five pounds of ribs, 43 inches of cheese steak sub, 31 dozen raw oysters, 13 slices of pizza, 13 pounds of cranberry sauce, and 13 date-nut-bread-and-cream-cheese sandwiches. It's all documented, much of it having aired on ESPN, Spike TV and YouTube.

"I've always been able to eat more than anybody else," Lee says in an accent still heavy with the Mandarin of her native northwest China. During summers with her grandparents, Lee's 20 cousins would ridicule the chow-time dominance of the pint-size girl with the pigpen appetite. "It was embarrassing. I was smaller, but I ate more even than the boys."

On the other side of Lee's Germantown kitchen, her husband, Joey Callow, is chopping vegetables and shaking his head. Her voracious ways are all too familiar to him.

"This is why it's so hard to cook," he calls out as another tomato evaporates. "You cut it, and it just goes away."

The two fix dinner together nearly every night, often with the help of their two teenage daughters. As Callow rinses and chops for tonight's menu of asparagus omelets, salad and shrimp stir-fry, Lee brings in end-of-the-season produce from the backyard garden, a few more tomatoes, the year's last green onion (which Lee rinses, rolls into a ball and pops, whole, into her mouth).

It's a scene domestic and normal, but it also highlights Lee's offbeat metabolism: At 5:30 p.m., this is her first food of the day. Since she was a student at Nanjing University keen to make more time for the library, she has been condensing all her meals into one big one at the end of the day.

"Not all of it!" Callow cries as his wife inserts a bouquet of freshly picked basil into her mouth. Too late.

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