Interview: What it’s like being on the other side of the table?

It’s all very well for the people doing food challenges feeling ill and doing something horrible all over the floor but it’s often the hard working staff at the restaurants that provide these challenges who help make it happen. It’s about time they got some more attention We returned to one of our favourite gastronomic haunts, Red Dog Saloon, to chat with Matthew Kearney, 32, who is one of the staff at the restaurant.

What’s it like being on the other side of the table to the people doing the challenges?

As entertaining as it can be, whilst also slightly off putting. Kind of like a car crash sometimes. You’re kind of drawn to it but there’s also a little bit of cringe.

Does it ever get disgusting watching people struggle through huge burgers or sweat through eating spicy chicken?

Last night was a prime example. A gentleman was a bit inebriated and he wanted to do the Hot Wing challenge with a group of male friends. Of course the testosterone’s flowing and they’re all going “Go! Go! Go! Go!”. So I took over from the point where the challenge was being served. The gentleman himself managed to do the Hot Wing challenge very briskly because all you’ve got to do is strip the meat basically. And then he went a bit quiet, wasn’t forthcoming with any words. So when we gave him his glass of milk – because you have to do a 5 minute “burn” after you’ve done the challenge, no drink of any kind whilst you’re doing the challenge – after the 5 minutes, the milk subsequently came back up, all over the shop. So that was messy, yes.

Does anyone ever try to cheat when doing a challenge? Have you ever caught anyone?

I have seen an element of boisterous cheating. They try to, before you say “No, you’re not allowed any drinks”. Some people the other day were trying to grab a milkshake to do the Viper Wing challenge.

You mentioned in your previous example that their were male friends encouraging one of their friends to do the Naga Viper Wing challenge. What’s the typical kind of person who do these challenges?

A typical person would be quite a boisterous chap, who is easily goaded by others, a football type.

Predominantly male?

Predominantly male. I would say 98% of any challenger will be male. I’d like to see a lady who can handle her wings.

Have you ever done any of the challenges?

I’m not that brave. We did a menu tasting as training for a member of staff and I tried some of the Naga Viper. I did a little bit of research on it before, found out exactly how hot it is. I had an amount that fit on half my little pinkie nail and that was enough to get me on my feet and want milk!

Do you find that people tip for challenges?

Yes, in fact I’ve found that people who do the challenges tend to tip more.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s partly to do with 90% of people doing them having a good time with the challenge. On the whole, it is fun. It’s a group activity. They feel involved in it when a friend is doing it. So we do tend to get more tips from those willing to do the challenge.

A spectacle…

Yeah. A team exercise.

Have you seen anyone succeed spectacularly? 

Yeah. There’s an American Gentleman, Randy Santel, who I was looking up on Youtube on my first week at Red Dog and he managed to do the Devastator challenge in 3 and a half minutes, which I thought was amazing because it’s a huge burger. You get 10 minutes for that; fries, Devastator, and the milkshake that comes with it. He’s a beast of a man. His technique is very intense.

When was the last time you saw someone succeed at either challenge?

The man who did the Viper Wing challenge yesterday technically succeeded but maybe a fail in term of pride. The last sucessful Devastator was last week.

Which one do people do more?

The Hot Wing challenge, sheerly because it’s more extreme.

I would have thought it would be the Devastator; it’s not as painful and you might actually enjoy your food even if you fail. If there’s one piece of advice you could give people who are going to do either of the challenges, what would it be?

For the Devastator, don’t have breakfast. A lot of people come in and have a starter and THEN they decide they want to do the Devastator. For the Viper Wings, do your research. I’ve told people about what it entails in terms of Scoville units, which is how the heat of chilli is measured. Naga Viper chillis are around 1 million. Tobasco Sauce only comes in around 4000.


Those interested in either challenge can attempt both at Red Dog Saloon Hoxton or their new branch in Clapham North, both in London.


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