When the cloud of powdered sugar settled, Wayne Algenio stood victorious.
The 34-year-old Queens man downed 54 zeppoles in six minutes on Wednesday, making him champion of the first-ever zeppole eating contest at the Feast of San Gennaro.
“I rip them apart with my fingers first because there is a lot of chewing,” Algenio explained to reporters, minutes after accomplishing the impressive feat. “They are absolutely delicious. And then I use water to power them down.”
Other than some lingering confectioner’s crumbs clinging to his chin, Algenio looked no worse for wear. Less than a week ago, he had won the feast’s cannoli eating contest, eating 38 of the delectable desserts in six minutes.
“The cannolis were easier to eat, surprisingly,” said Algenio, who works as a sterile processing technician at a hospital and estimates he has participated in over 200 eating contests. “This was a lot more chewing.”
The contest was the brainchild of zeppole king Danny “Danny on the Corner” Fratta, whose family has operated a stand at the feast for four generations.
“I’m in shock to see someone eat 54 zeppoles in six minutes,” said Fratta, 39, who is also a member of Figli di San Gennaro, a nonprofit group that organizes the feast. “I’m also happy and pleased and proud to see so many people here.”
The fried balls of dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar, are a popular Italian treat and a favorite of feast-goers. While Fratta crafts countless numbers of the zeppole during the 11-day festival, he consumes just one a day.
“I just want to make sure it’s good,” Fratta said.
The annual feast is a New York City tradition, started in 1926 by Italian immigrants who wanted to honor the patron saint of Naples and recreate the September 19 feast day they celebrated at home.
“San Gennaro is the whole reason why this feast exists,” Fratta said. “I hope people also take some time to visit the chapel when they come.”
The feast runs through Sunday and includes Thursday’s solemn high Mass to celebrate San Gennaro at the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood, followed by a religious procession.
On Saturday there will be a meatball eating contest, but Algenio said he won’t try for the San Gennaro eating triple crown. And it’s not because he’s not up for the challenge.
“I already signed up for a macaroni and cheese eating contest that day,” Algenio said.