Interview With Lauren Shugart, H.O.E.S 2012 Champion!
Hi there. I’m Phil. I’m the Senior Kitchen Manager here at Home Slice Pizza and I am the luckiest guy in the world. The world. Two years ago I met Lauren Shugart, winner of the 2010 Hands On an Eggplant Sub (H.O.E.S) competition. When she was being interviewed prior to the competition, she was asked what set her apart, what made her think that she could win this challenge of endurance and will. Her response was short, sweet, and to the point: “I’m a champ.” She IS a champ. She was a champ before she competed and took the title for H.O.E.S. 2010. She was a champ when she won it. And she was still a champ last night when we met at Home Slice to have some slices, drink some wine (the Salice Salentino that was recommended by Ross. Thanks, Ross!), and chat about the Carnival past, and the upcoming Carnival O Pizza, which is coming up on November 10th, 2012.
Phil: Lauren, what is your fondest memory from the Hands On An Eggplant Sub competition?
Lauren: There are really two memories. The first was the cup of coffee. I love coffee. I tried not to drink much of anything during the competition and so I hadn’t had any coffee for the length of it. That cup of coffee that someone, I can’t even remember who, handed me that morning, it was delicious. The second memory was when you brought me into the kitchen, opened the oven doors, and you had me smell the bread that was baking.
Phil: I LOVE that moment. I recall it fondly too! It was early in the morning, hours before we open, and we were baking off the bread for the day. Both of my ovens were full of our bread. That smell, that smell of freshly baking bread, man, it just smells like hope, like anything is possible, like life is amazing. Because it is. I was really grateful to have been there when you took the title, and to share with you the thing that bakers get to experience every day before dawn breaks.
Lauren: It was really nice.
Phil: Was there a moment of craziness?
Lauren: Craziness? No. Crazy laughter? Yes. We laughed so much. So much. The Chad (Chad Garyet) was hilarious. Maybe we were giddy from sleep deprivation. At one point I had thought that the table we were standing at had moved. I mean, I thought that the table had been at the back of the restaurant, then at the side of the More Home Slice, then in front of More Home Slice.
Phil: Maybe your brain was inventing movement because you had been standing in the same place so long.
Phil: Did you have any moment of clarity that came from all of that? Any kind of sweat lodge epiphany?
Lauren: Not really. There was a moment towards the end when I was feeling pretty nauseous. I was standing there, hand in the sub, and trying to figure out what I was going to do. Do I just lean away and hope for the best? Do I take my hand off and give up? It was pretty uncomfortable for a little while. I came pretty close to giving up right then and there, and I was pretty far in. It was only Chad, Sonia (Sonia Arellano) at that point. I really didn’t think I was going to make it and I’d come so far already. But then it passed and I was okay. Then I knew I was going to take it all the way to the end.
Phil: Which you did.
Lauren: Which I did.
Phil: Because you’re a champ. What kind of advice could you give the contestants this year?
Lauren: You don’t need all the stuff you think you want to bring. I brought an iPod; I never listened to it. I brought books; I never read them. I did bring a shoe box full of dog food.
Phil: A shoe box full of dog food?
Lauren: Well, a taped shoe box full of dog food. My dogs were pretty confused when I was putting it together.
Phil: Okay, what’s up with the shoe box and the dog food?
Lauren: Well, if you’re going to be standing for a long period of time it helps to shift your weight from leg to leg and to elevate your feet back and forth. I chose the shoe box because I could change the height by putting it either horizontally or vertically and change the position of my foot. I used the dog food because I needed to weight it down and I had a lot of dog food available. You know, because of my dogs.
Phil: That’s brilliant! Did you have any fear of attracting roving bands of feral dogs?
Lauren: No. But I think that could have worked in my favor.
Phil: How did you prepare for this kind of competition?
Lauren: I didn’t, really. I decided to do it a couple of weeks before the event. I had seen it on the Home Slice website and thought it would be a cool thing to do. So I signed up. Then the Sunday before the Saturday of Carnival I decided I should probably try standing for a little while to get a sense of what I was getting myself into. So I stood for an hour, and then I stopped. It was standing just like I remembered standing. No big deal. Bring on the competition.
Phil: What about footwear?
Lauren: Footwear is really important. I love camping and I’ve got this awesome pair of blue hiking boots I wore. They’re really sturdy w/ great support. And they’re blue. I do have to say that the fact that they’re hiking boots and have ankle support made a huge difference. Also I brought I yoga mat to stand on. I think Seth (Seth Mazow, Champion 2008, 2009) did that as well.
Phil: I had heard that Seth had BUILT his own yoga mat for the competition.
Lauren: That sounds like Seth.
Phil: So I gotta say, one of the things I love about your win was how Sam supported you throughout. You and she are just a great couple. Sonia’s family was supportive to her. Chad’s folks were for him. I know your Mom came and supported you as well, but it really seemed to me that Sam played a pretty big role in your support, which lead to your championship title.
Lauren: Yeah, she’s great. She put up with my mood swings. That was really a great comfort. That last day she was heading to work really early and she had stopped by the store to pick up some bananas for me. But the bananas weren’t ripe enough. They were green. I kind of lost it. I mean, I was really tired. But all I wanted was a banana and the bananas she brought I couldn’t eat. It really bummed me out. I sent her away and she was really sort of bummed out that I was so upset. But she kept texting me afterwards and kept encouraging me to keep on, even though I was clearly at my wits end.
Phil: Do you feel differently about pizza now then before? I mean, having eaten pizza free for a year did your discover anything about pizza that you didn’t know before?
Lauren: I’ve always loved pizza. Really the difference between then and now is the relationship with Home Slice that happened during that year I was Champion. When I would come in once a week, because I came in at least once a week, everyone was really cool, really nice. It was never like “Oh, here’s the girl who gets free pizza”. It was always like, “Hey! It’s Lauren!” That was really great. Also I got to see how you guys approach this really simple food for the art that it is. You care so much about every part of it. It’s so clear. So many people look at pizza as just disposable food. Just the kind of thing you order in the morning when you’re hung over (not that I’ve ever done that). Whatever. Point is that it’s more than that. Food is more than that. It’s kind of sad that people don’t really stop to eat, or stop to eat together, to share a meal, to share the experience. You guys do that really well. You guys love the food, the experience, the whole thing. It’s bigger than pizza.
Phil: Thanks! So are you going to compete this year?
Lauren: I was thinking about it but it falls on the same weekend as Field Biology Trip. It’s a bummer. If it weren’t for the conflicting schedule I would do it again.
Phil: What frightens you in a competitor?
Lauren: Nothing. There’s nothing in a competitor that would frighten me. Annoy me, maybe.
Phil: What inspires you in a competitor?
Lauren: Super annoying people.
Phil: How do super annoying people inspire you?
Lauren: Some people just need to be taken down a couple notches, Phil. Some people just need to be taken down.
Phil: Do you still think of yourself as a H.O.E.?
Lauren: Yeah, but I don’t want to be that guy. That “remember when” guy. That “remember me, wasn’t that cool” guy. But it’s definitely a big part of who I am, and what I can accomplish. The competition came around at a pretty pivotal part of my life. I was only really starting to make smart, adult decisions. And then I did the contest. I made a decision and I stuck by it. I followed through with it. I believed in myself. It was the decision to do things that are cool and not shitty. That served me well ever since.
Phil: What did it feel like the first time you stuck your hand in the sub?
Lauren: It was gross. I thought it would be hotter but it wasn’t. It just felt gross.
Phil: Did you choose left or right hand?
Lauren: Right. There had been some discussion about it. I’m right handed. A lot of people said that I should go w/ the left so I could keep my dominant hand free. But I thought that if I had to think about what I was doing w/ my left hand it would be better, keep me more alert. I thought I could control my dominant hand better and keep it in the sub. Of course it got tricky putting on and taking off my headphones. HEADPHONES, by the way. Use ear buds. They’re crappy headphones and bad for your ears, but trying to put on proper headphones w/ only one hand is pretty challenging. That’s why the robe was so awesome.
Phil: The robe! Right! I had forgotten that robe. It looked like a 50s housewife robe.
Lauren: It may not have been the cleanest robe but it added to my mystique…
Phil: No, I mean it just looked hilarious. Like you looked like The Dude.
Lauren: Right. It was pretty comfortable. And easy to put on and take off with one hand.
Phil: Is there something you would have done differently if you were going to compete this year?
Lauren: I would just bring less stuff. Robe. Shoe Box with dog food. Ripe bananas.
Phil: Why is H.O.E.S. special to you?
Lauren: Because of the relationships. Because of Home Slice’s relationship to its neighborhood. It’s commitment to quality. (You guys should open a shop up North, you know). Because of what it showed me I was capable of. That and every time I come to More Home Slice I get kind of sentimental when I go to the bathroom…
Lauren: That’s the bathroom we got to use for our bathroom breaks. It became this very special and safe place for me. I could move my arms. I could spin around. I could stretch and breath. I could be alone. I still feel really romantic about that bathroom. I love it so much.
Phil: What’s your favorite topping on a pie?
Lauren: I love the clam pie. It’s amazing. I mean it’s so good. Also the pepperoni and mushroom is Sam’s favorite. Those are the two we normally get.
Phil: What’s the craziest pie you’ve ordered?
Lauren: There were some friends of mine who ordered this super over topped pizza even though I advised them against it. It had every ingredient. When it got to the table I looked at it and said, “No. No way I’m eating that”. It was just too much.
Phil: What combination doesn’t work?
Lauren: Anchovies, for sure. I mean I love them in your Caesar Dressing. But anchovies all by themselves? No. Broccoli is too bulky. Also, and I hate to say it, Fresh Mozzarella. It’s just too much. It’s too thick. It throws off the balance of the pizza.
Phil: What would you tell someone who knows nothing about the Carnival O Pizza?
Lauren: That it’s an amazing charity event, run by a local pizza shop, doing cool things that are unexpected. Phil, you always talk about the families, and the kids playing with dough, and this vibe of a bunch of people sharing this experience all at once. That’s what I would talk about. I’d talk about how it’s all these people who don’t know each other but who are really connected. And that it happens. It’s kind of amazing that it happens at all, really. But it happens for everyone, all at once, so they can share this thing, altogether. That’s what I’d say about the Carnival.
Phil: Thanks, Champ. You’re the bomb.
Lauren: You too, Phil.
With that, we ended our conversation. We had killed the bottle of Salice Salentino (again, great recommendation, Ross!) and went back to More Home Slice to grab a couple of slices of pepperoni for her to take home to Sam. We held hands for a second while she looked wistfully at the bathroom she loves so much. I said goodnight to the Champ and she went home to her loving girlfriend and dogs, who are still confused as to why she taped up that shoebox full of dog food.