Michelle “Cardboard Shell” Lesco, a 112-pound, 33-year-old math teacher from Tucson, Arizona, just became the world Oyster Queen. On September 3rd, 2016 at the Turkish Airlines World Oyster Eating Championship, Lesco ate 227 oysters in 3 minutes, defeating the ten-year oyster champion, Northern Ireland’s Colin Shirlow. She also defeated fellow American professional eater Adrian “The Rabbit” Morgan. Lesco is currently ranked 10th in the world by Major League Eating, the international body that oversees all professional eating contests. Earlier this year, Lesco competed in the Acme Oyster Eating Competition in New Orleans, eating 385 oysters in 8 minutes.
Paste: This year you defeated your biggest oyster nemesis (Colin Shirlow, the Oyster King for 10 years running) at the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival, claiming the title of Oyster Queen for yourself. How did you prepare for the competition this year?
Michelle Lesco: Last year I studied his tapes to find out what made him unbeatable for nearly a decade. He was fast — over an oyster a second, but not speed of light fast. Where he really got the others was precision and consistency. He’s like a machine and never misses. Last year, I fumbled in the first 20 seconds, but towards the end I was precise and moving a little faster than him. I knew accuracy was where I faltered, so this year I worked on that.
Paste: Can you describe your oyster eating technique? How has it evolved since you’ve been competing in oyster championships?
ML: For this contest, you have to lift the shells to your face and suck out the oysters. That’s basically it. You just need to be fast and accurate. I stayed low to reduce distance to mouth, and I kept both hands busy the whole time. No liquids.
Paste: What does your body feel like after you eat 227 oysters in three minutes?
ML: Pretty good. At New Orleans’ Acme Oyster Festival, we have an 8 minute contest (with forks) and we eat more than twice that amount, so I had room to spare. The salt takes a toll, though. You get pretty thirsty.
Paste: Do you enjoy eating oysters when you’re not competing? Are you ever repulsed by them?
ML: I love oysters with cocktail sauce, tabasco, horseradish, and lemon. In contest, we eat them plain. Not as good, but not disgusting. They get gross after about 400.
Paste: What’s the hardest part about consuming that many oysters?
ML: We cut the hell out of our faces with the shells. Once the adrenaline wears off, it hurts. And I had to eat a couple oysters that were covered in my chin blood. If I had time to think about that, it may have been more difficult. The hardest part of the contest is probably staying accurate when your adrenaline is pumping.
Paste: Is there any food that you would NOT like to eat competitively?
ML: I used to say chiles. I’m not a fan, and the contests are usually won with over 2 gallons. But then they flew me out to Florida for a contest so I ate it anyways. Still got over a gallon and a quarter done in 5 minutes.
Paste: You’re currently ranked as the world’s #10 professional competitive eater by Major League Eating—a major accomplishment. What are your competitive eating super powers?
ML: Technique foods are my forte. Others might have me beat on capacity, but I’m pretty dexterous. I’ve been world champion of ribs, won contest for wings, and now I’m Oyster Queen. Maybe it’s because I tend to rip my food apart in general. I’m not a classy person.
Paste: How many competitions do you do on an annual basis, and what are your favorites?
ML: It’s probably about 15 contests a year, give or take. I love ribs and wings — you usually feel ok afterwards and they’re just delicious in general. But some contests top others in fanfare. Nathan’s hot dogs is like being at the superbowl. Day Lee Foods World Gyoza Championship is an event that is masterfully put together. Hillsborough Oyster Festival is an entire week of celebrations put on by fantastic people for a great cause (and it’s in Northern Ireland). It’s hard to choose a favorite.
Paste: Will we see you back at the Oyster Festival next year to defend your crown? Do you have your eye on any up-and-coming oyster rivals?
ML: Most definitely. Colin is going to come back with a vengeance. I’m going to need to really learn from this year and kick it up a couple notches if I want to keep that crown. Next year will probably bring a new world record — if not from me or Colin, than from whoever shares our table.