Seymour Land Trust president devours competition in taco eating contest fundraiser [New Haven Register]

May 6, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New Haven Register

SEYMOUR >> Seymour Land Trust President Alex Danka likely may have needed some Tums Tuesday night after scarfing down 14 tacos in five minutes, all for a good cause.

But that didn’t bother Danka, who won bragging rights as the Valley’s taco-eating champion during the 2nd annual Cinco de Mayo Elected Officials’ Taco-Eating Contest held at Hot Tamale’s Mexican Grille and Bar.

Danka easily shattered last year’s record, when a Naugatuck man, simply known as “Yo Joe” won by devouring eight tacos in five minutes and five seconds.

In the end, the event raised more than $2,500 for TEAM Inc.’s Meals on Wheels program, which delivers more than 1,000 nutritious meals each week to the homes of area senior citizens. The amount raised was expected to nearly double after the Valley Community Foundation kicked in its donation to the cause.

A standing-room only crowd gathered outside the restaurant, where a giant white tent was set up to usher in Cinco de Mayo, and serve as contest central. The nine contestants, sporting sombreros, took their seats behind two tables, draped in colorful Mexican blankets. Several pitchers of water stood at the ready, to help wash down 6-inch soft tacos, filled with beef and cheddar, piled high on trays.

This year’s line-up included returning favorites First Selectman Kurt “The Taco Killer” Miller along with state Sen. Rob “Lemme Me Have ‘Em” Kane. Newcomers to the party were Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti, TEAM Inc’s President and CEO David Morgan, Southbury’s First Selectman Ed Edelson and his daughter Sarah, Craig Cubellotti, representing state Sen. Kevin Kelly, the youngest in the bunch, Cade Klarides-Ditria, 14, representing his aunt, state House Republican Minority Leader Themis Klarides, and, of course, the newly crowned taco king, Danka. Danka was actually representing state Rep. Theresa Conroy.

Each contestant was presented with a plate of four tacos to start off with. Hot Tamale’s Owner Robert Volpacchio set his stopwatch to five minutes, five seconds, and the eating began. The crowd, sipping margaritas and downing shots of tequila, cheered on the taco-eaters from the sidelines. As the time clock ran out, several contestants appeared ready for some antacid, but not Danka, who had a huge grin on his face, knowing he not only surpassed, but shattered, last year’s record, with 14 tacos under his belt — or rather, in his belly.

Upon emerging victorious, Danka asked his wife, Trisha, watching in the crowd, ‘What’s for dinner … tacos?”

“He’s sleeping on the couch tonight!” Trisha Danka said.

Danka said the secret to his taco-eating success was simple.

“I really didn’t think about it, I just kept shoving the tacos in my mouth,” he said. “I was even eating them right off of Kurt (Miller’s) and Rob (Kane’s) plates, because they were too slow.”

Suzanne Reilly, TEAM’s director of family support services, said more than 51,000 meals were delivered to 333 Valley seniors last year, thanks to Meals on Wheels.

TEAM’s board of directors member John Hatfield applauded all those for participating in the fun event, and said it serves as “a testament to just how important TEAM is to the Valley” and the thousands of residents who rely on the nonprofit’s services.

Kenny Kuntz, who returned as the event’s emcee, lauded all for taking part in the event, and issued a light-hearted warning to each contestant’s significant other.

“God bless these people and God bless their spouses tonight!” he said.