Robb Fulcher

Burrito eating contestant hospitalized by ghost pepper

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Cole Chance tries a burrito challenge that drove another contestant to a hospital. Photo by Robb Fulcher

A young man was taken drooling to a hospital after he conquered a spicy burrito challenge at a local restaurant, and then the burrito conquered him. He told paramedics he was felled by a dreaded “ghost pepper.”

The man’s health was not threatened, but he found himself in a world of spicy hurt after he signed a waiver and tackled “Habanero Sam’s Challenge” on Sunday afternoon at Amigos Tacos on Hermosa Avenue and 14th Street.

A taco might have been his amigo, but the burrito was not.

“I warned him, are you sure you want to do it?” said Sam Sabra of Amigos Tacos. “He said yes. He signed a waiver, I made him a burrito. It’s just a regular-size burrito but it’s very, very spicy.”

“He had 15 minutes to eat it. He ate it so fast, in less than six minutes he was done with it. He won $50,” Sabra said.

The restaurateur said he had advised the burrito challenger to slow down, telling him he had “plenty of time” left on the clock.

“About a half-hour later, he was outside, his eyes were tearing, he was drooling. He finally gave up and said, ‘Please, can you call an ambulance?’

“It happened that a couple of cops were eating in my restaurant. They called the paramedics and they came and picked him up,” Sabra said.

But the paramedics could not find a way to neutralize the man’s throat pain, so they took him to a local hospital.

The man, who identified himself to Sabra by the first name John, told paramedics he had fallen victim to the “ghost pepper,” hotter even than the habanero.

Several fan websites declare the ghost – the naga jolokia chili pepper – to be the hottest of them all, out-firing even the red savina habanero. It is said to have earned its nickname because one who eats it “gives up the Ghost.”

Sabra said he uses the ghost pepper and the habanero for his special burrito challenge, and he agrees that the ghost is the hottest of the hot.

He said John was the second person to take the burrito challenge.

“A lady tried it Saturday, she took four bites and she stopped. [John] gobbled it down.”

Sabra ran into John on the Fourth of July, the day after the ghost pepper beat-down, and “he was fine.”

Word had spread of John’s costly victory.

“Two guys came in and they wanted to do the challenge,” Sabra said. “We were about to close, so I told them, let’s do it next time. I told them what happened [to John], and they said ‘We know. We want to do it.’

On Tuesday a tearing, perspiring, nose-blowing Cole Chance, 21, of Washington DC managed less than half of a challenge burrito before surrendering and asking for milk. He said he eats Tabasco “like ketchup,” but the ghost-habanero combo is on “a different level.”

Sabra himself took a tiny bite and said his lips we’re burning. “You’re crazy to eat that,” he told Chance. Another nearby diner also tried one bite, exclaimed loudly and bolted from his table for a soft drink.


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