Te Awamutu has another national title-holder in Chilli Eating Champion Justin Rummel — and he had to go way beyond next level to achieve his goal.
Justin beat reigning champion Greg Miller of Christchurch at the Fire Dragon Chillis NZ Hot Sauce Festival and Chilli Eating Championships in Auckland on Saturday.
He also knocked out US chilli guru Johnny Scoville along the way.
Justin is from Melbourne, but has been in Te Awamutu for three years.
He says he has always liked heat in his food, and about 18 months ago ate a Carolina Reaper — a chilli pepper ranked as one of the hottest in the world.
Heat is measured in Scoville units — invented by and named after Wilbur Scoville in 1912.
The Carolina Reaper is in the 800,000 to 3.2 million unit range.
By comparison a jalapeno is in the 1000 to 10,000 heat unit range.
He put the video on Facebook and was tagged and it was suggested he give the competition a go.
He entered and won the Hamilton Chilli Eating Contest and qualified for the 2018 national final, finishing third.
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He teamed up with fellow Te Awamutu chilli lover Paul Merson and the pair started posting to Facebook and YouTube as Heat Hunters — doing chilli challenges, reviewing chillis and presenting recipes.
Justin says it proved to be good training for the 2019 champs.
He won the Waikato and Bay of Plenty titles and Paul won the Hawke's Bay title so they both qualified for the finals last weekend.
To say he and Greg went next level is an understatement.
Overseas competitions usually run for 10 or 12 rounds. In New Zealand the organisers had 24 rounds planned, but had to go to 25 rounds to separate the pair.
Staring with a Purple Birds Eye, competitors have to chew for 30 seconds, prove to judges they have chewed the chilli, then swallow.
After a few minutes to recuperate the process is repeated with the next hottest chilli.
Competitors are eliminated if they cheat, pull out, have a drink, spit or throw up.
In the 25th round Greg threw up and Justin took the title.
He prepares by drinking cream to line the stomach and making sure he has food as well.
He says the main preparation is to be mentally ready.
The chillis cause an almost narcotic effect — "it makes you high and you have to work through it," he says.
It isn't glamorous, but at the end of the competition competitors need to empty their stomach contents.
Chillis can cause pain, physical damage — and at worst can kill — so there is a huge element of danger.
Justin hopes the win will help propel interest in Heat Hunters and maybe get him some international recognition that may lead to sponsored travel.
Meanwhile, he plans to nurture his hidden talent and believes he has what it takes to defend his New Zealand title in 2020.