Burning ring of chilli fire

It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, as the Divinyls’ song goes, but it’s a line Jim Thomassen gets a kick out of walking.

Jim, 55, is a competitive chilli eater who will take on the best at the New Zealand Chilli Eating Championships this weekend.

Cambridge man Jim Thomassen is preparing to compete in the national chilli eating championships in Auckland this Saturday. Photo: Steph Bell-Jenkins.

“When you’re competing there’s an incredible amount of pain, which some of the female competitors liken to childbirth,” the Wise Group procurement specialist said.

“Your body releases as many endorphins as it can to counter the pain, so you find yourself in a very happy state of mind – you can even hallucinate.”

He loves the challenge of pushing his mind and body to the limit and says chilli eating is an extreme sport.

“After the competition you basically go and make yourself sick, because if you keep it in, it really hurts,” he said.

“You literally feel the chillies travelling across your stomach and whenever you go to the loo next it’s as the Johnny Cash song says, ‘the burning ring of fire’.”

Jim first developed a taste for chillies while dining in overseas restaurants and began growing his own plants about 15 years ago.

In 2021 he decided to spice up his life by entering the Waikato regional chilli eating championship. He won and qualified for the nationals, repeating the feat in 2022 and achieving fifth-equal, his best result so far.

This Saturday marks his third crack at the New Zealand title.

In front of a crowd of about 500 chilli fans at Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen in Auckland, he and nine other finalists will chomp through an increasingly fiery selection of chillies, starting with a jalapeno measuring 5000 Scoville units.

“You are eliminated when you give in, are sick or have a drink,” Jim said.

“The last person standing is the winner. To be New Zealand champion you’ll need to eat 50-plus super-hot chillies over 90 minutes. These include red ghosts, Carolina reapers and the big black mama, which are all around 1.5 million Scoville units, or 300 times hotter than a jalapeno.”

With the Oceania title also on the line, he’ll be up against some real firepower – New Zealand champion Shannon Leigh and Australian champion Gaby Del Castillo.

“Gaby is absolutely world class – she eats chillies like they’re pineapple lumps,” Jim said.

Although it was possible to build tolerance to the heat, he had not been training because it was “a little bit sadomasochistic”.

The final will be streamed live online.

In his spare time Jim also loves playing football and often takes a bowl of chilli to the local club to share during after-match functions.

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