Hundreds of passersby along Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach gathered behind Muscle Beach at the outdoor stage Saturday, February 12th, to witness an appalling event — the World Grilled-Cheese Eating Championship.

The event was hosted by the International Federation of Competitive Eaters (IFOCE) and sponsored by — an online casino and sports betting Web site. owner Steve Baker had recently purchased the slice of toast with the alleged face of the Virgin Mary burned into the bread.

Barker said that he paid $28,000 for the slice of toast on eBay, where he says the bidding was “relentless” for the famous slice of toast.

Barker says he does not have an opinion on whether the Virgin Mary image on the toast is authentic. He says that his reason for buying the toast was to promote his internationally.

“People can think whatever they want, the bottom line is that people are interested in this toast,” he said.

The grilled cheese eating contest itself, was just as disgusting as spending $28,000 for a slice of toast.

Fifteen nationally-known competitive eaters were in the hunt for a bite of the $10,000 in cash prizes put up by

The first-place winner would be the eater who could eat the most grilled cheese sandwiches in ten minutes.

Contestants, when introduced before the contest, made their way to the front of the stage like they were NBA (National Basketball Association) all-stars or WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestlers.

Most of them had some sort of absurd signature move about them — it was just awful.

“And here comes Richard LeFevre and his famous jaw,” yelled the emcee.

And minutes after the promotional hoopla surrounding this circus-like event ceased, the competition was under way.

The ten-minute countdown had begun and most of the hundreds of audience members oohed and aahed, but some shouted, “You’re all disgusting,” and “Gluttons!” at the contestants.

The favorite, 100-pound Sonya Thomas, was off to a quick start and she must have forced down at least five sandwiches in the first minute or so.

The trick was to lubricate the sandwiches by dousing them with water, then breaking them in half and shoving them into your mouth.

Most of all the contestants practiced this “watering” technique.

Thomas holds numerous world eating records, including one for eating 32 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes and another for 36-dozen oysters in ten minutes.

She is the number-one-ranked eater in the U.S., according to the International Federation of Competitive Eaters.

I’m certainly glad I elected to wait until after the event to enjoy my Saturday lunch.

There were 15 contestants, seven of whom were awarded cash prizes.

In first place, eating 25 grilled-cheese sandwiches in ten minutes and winning $3,500 was 100-pound Sonya Thomas.

Tied for second and third places, eating 23 sandwiches and winning $1,525 each, were Richard LeFevre and Jed “Jalape”o” Donahue.

In fourth place, eating 20 sandwiches in ten minutes and awarded $1,150, was Carlene LeFevre.

Tied for fifth and sixth places, eating 18 sandwiches and winning $900, were Eric Booker and Charles Hardy.

In seventh place, with 17 sandwiches in ten minutes and winning $500, was Ron Koch.

After Thomas received her championship belt for winning the eating contest, I had the opportunity to speak with second and fourth place winning husband-and-wife competitive eating duo Carlene and Richard LeFevre of Henderson, Nevada.

The married couple weighs in at a collective 247 pounds. They are not overweight. In fact, they seem to be in very good shape.

“My doctor told me that my cholesterol is 129,” says Carlene LeFevre. “He said to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, so that’s why I’m here.”

Richard says that neither he nor Carlene had any idea that their significant other was a “big” eater until after they were married.

“We used to go up to this steakhouse in Texas and polish off a 72-ounce steak each,” said LeFevre. The restaurant doesn’t charge if the diner can finish off the 72-ounce steak.

“And that was with mashed potatoes and vegetables,” Carlene chimed in.

The LeFevres say the trick in the eating competitions is to have the proper training.

“I buy bulk of whatever is on sale at the market for the week,” says Carlene. “This week it is asparagus, so I might turn green.”

Carlene says she eats massive amounts of vegetables and fruits.

“I can eat ten pounds of apples in a day,” she says.

The LeFevres credit their competitive eating success to their upbringing.

“We are both from families of big eaters in Texas, we were taught to eat a lot,” says Carlene.