“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I am the 2005 Pad Thai Eating Champion of Boston. I ate 4 large platters in 30 minutes. My picture hung outside of 9 Tastes Thai Restaurant in Harvard Square for an entire year. I put it on my resume. It got me to the final rounds in all my sales and trading interviews.

Surprisingly, my gustatory gifts were not always so celebrated and encouraged. When I was growing up in Louisiana, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Grace, gave me the first of many "Bs" on my report card for "Conduct." She wrote that I had "poor table manners." I would gross out my classmates by jazzing up all of my food with Tabasco sauce and relishing victual combinations the likes of which had never been seen in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. I would pick my plate clean like a pirhana and ask my friends: "You gonna eat that?" And I always asked for seconds. And thirds.

But I still eat as I please and in combinations that sing from the many places where I've called home: Garlicky spices from Korea, Frites drenched in Mayonnaise from Belgium, Cajun and Creole from Louisiana, greasy southern comfort from Tennessee, and, of course, Jell-O casserole dessert from North Dakota.

In the buffet of life, I don't want my stomach ever to get filled up by the free bread that just happens to be sitting on the table. I'm going to get up and walk over to the steaming buffet and put together my own creation. Some diners will look at my towering plate and lose their appetite, some will be amused, and if Mrs. Grace is there, she might give me another "B" in "Conduct." But some curious people will come over, smile, and ask: "Does ketchup taste good on pickles? Why are you eating Korean Kimchee on barbecue pork? And how do you eat fried chicken with chopsticks?" And I'll pull up a chair for them and we'll share and feast 

— PJ Kim