MADISON, Minn. (WCCO) – With Christmas less than a week away, you would expect hams, pies and cookies to be the top sellers in grocery stores.
But in the western Minnesota town of Madison, the big demand right now is for fish that feels like Jell-O in your mouth.
“Well lutefisk, I grew up with it,” said Minerva Moen, who comes from a long line of Norwegians. “My grandparents always had it.”
The people of Madison claim they eat more lutefisk, per capita, than anyone else in the country. And who can argue when a giant fiberglass cod nicknamed Lou T. Fisk is in the town’s main park?
Madison is the self-proclaimed “Lutefisk Capital USA.” People there used to actually say they lived in the “Lutefisk Capital of the World” until someone in Norway complained. But there is no question they have the world champion lutefisk eater.
Jerry Osteraas is 6 feet, 5 inches of 100 percent Norwegian, and he can put down more than seven pounds of lutefisk in one sitting.
“Well he’s always been a big eater from the day I first met him,” said Karen Osteraas, Jerry’s wife.
In more than 20 years of competitive eating, Jerry Osteraas is undefeated at the town’s annual Norsefest. Well, except for those three times when he got some “bad” lutefisk.
“I mean it was like eating rubber,” he said. “It really was. And it came back on me, and I just can’t eat like that.”
His wife clarified matters, claiming “He’s never actually thrown up. He’s just gotten to the gag point and then just can’t eat any more.”
For those who don’t know, lutefisk means “lye fish.” That’s because in Norwegian tradition, dried fish is mixed with lye to give it a gelatin type texture. The lye is cooked out, though, before anyone eats it.
Jerry knows what a rare talent he has, and he’s become somewhat of a celebrity. He’ll keep competing as long as his stomach holds out.
“Yes, I’m well known,” he said with a laugh.
WCCO-TV’s Mike Binkley Reports