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Eric "Silo" Dahl (center)

Eric "Silo" Dahl (center), of Madison, eats his way to victory at the Dickey's Barbecue Pit national championship last month in Texas.

We have a budding superstar in our midst, and among other things, that means if you have a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal in the cupboard, you might want to check to see if it's still there.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the favorite food of Eric "Silo" Dahl. At least that's what he told me. He once told another reporter it was pancakes.

The point is, food of any kind doesn't tend to last long in Dahl's orbit. On Oct. 23, he established a world record by dispatching 27 pieces of pumpkin pie in 8 minutes — without using his hands — at a competition in Clarence, N.Y.

"He destroyed the record," Todd "The Hungry Genius" Greenwald said recently. Greenwald, Dahl and I were sitting in a Monroe Street coffeehouse. For the record, nobody was eating.

Greenwald, 36, of Stoughton, is commissioner of the fledgling National Collegiate Competitive Eating Association, and Dahl, 20, is his star. 

Dahl is the No. 1-ranked collegiate competitive eater in the country. He's a new student at UW-Madison — studying computer engineering — which is fitting because Madison is where Dahl first discovered his genius, if that is the word, for gluttony.

It was last February, and Dahl, a Minnesota native, was a student at Rochester Community and Technical College. He was visiting friends in Madison when one thing led to another and Dahl found himself entered in the 3-pound cheesesteak 10-minute challenge at Big Red's Steaks on University Avenue.

Without giving it a great deal of consideration, Dahl downed the massive cheese-steak in 5 minutes, 52 seconds. He learned he was only the eighth guy ever to finish under 10 minutes and his time was the third fastest ever. In other words, he was a natural.

Dahl began entering competitions, and after 22 events, he remains undefeated. In about 10 of the events, he was pitted against other eaters; in the remainder, he said, "it was just me against the food."

It was in one of the latter that he got his nickname. At a diner in Red Wing, Minn., Dahl took on a 13-egg omelet stuffed with vegetables, meat, cheese and potatoes. He finished in under 10 minutes and a hush came over the diner. Then a woman said, "He looks like a silo."

What Dahl really looks like is the guy at the gym who bugs you because he's in such chiseled good shape. He's 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 215. He was a wrestler in high school and is a serious weight lifter today. He hasn't really intellectualized why he is able to eat so much, so fast. Greenwald, the college league commissioner, figures Dahl has a low gag reflex and a stomach that can hold more than the normal amount of food.

Greenwald first saw Dahl eat at a contest in May at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in Plymouth, Minn. Dahl won by putting away nine 7-ounce pulled pork sandwiches in 6 minutes.

"I knew he was gifted," Greenwald said, and grinned. "He threw common sense out the window."

Actually, Dahl monitors his calorie intake carefully. He cuts back prior to competitions. He's never gotten sick during or after competing. He doesn't currently have a girlfriend and said the reaction of women when he talks about his avocation can be interesting.

"You bring it up and they might squirm a little bit," Dahl said. "On the other hand, it's a good conversation starter." He said his family is supportive — though his father took some convincing.

The pie contest in New York was one of two major wins Dahl scored in October. Earlier that month, he traveled to Texas for the Dickey's national finals. Facing six other regional winners, Dahl ate 11½ pulled pork sandwiches in 6 minutes and claimed victory.

That win earned him $500 — the pie slices garnered $800 — and Dahl concedes it's not something he can make a profession, at least for now. He has hitched his star to Greenwald, who founded a professional competitive eating organization, All Pro Eating, in 2004, as a competitor to the better known Major League Eating, which runs the famous Nathan's Fourth of July hot dog competition. Greenwald established the college league — which pays off in scholarships, not cash — earlier this year.

These days Greenwald is looking for sponsors and Dahl is looking for Facebook followers. Both are looking toward the Greenwald-promoted chicken salad sandwich world championship in Indiana in April. The Hungry Genius says the smart money is on the Silo.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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