Can you imagine anything better than attending an event solely dedicated to the celebration of chicken wings? Me neither. So when I was offered the opportunity to accompany Twisted to England's biggest chicken wing festival, I could hardly refuse. Claiming to have the "finest purveyors of chicken wings from around the country", Wing Fest lets these wingsperts battle it out to win the title of best buffalo wing and best wild wing. This of course is difficult because, as Wing Fest says, "every year their recipes get tastier and tastier, and hotter and hotter."
Twisted were here to eat some chicken wings, drink some beer and judge the competition (literally). Whilst winners are voted for by ticket holders, Wing Fest also allows industry experts to have their say during the two day festival. And as Wing Fest co-founder Richard said at the beginning of the day, it's very interesting to see whether the two results align.
So let's break down what exactly a buffalo wing and wild wing is. According to the Wing Fest website a "traditional Buffalo wing is an unbreaded chicken wing, cut in half (with the tip discarded), deep-fried and coated in a base mixture of cayenne-pepper sauce and butter." Whilst extra ingredients can be added for flavour, the wild wing is where wing connoisseurs can really let rip. As Wing Fest details, the category has absolutely "no rules". The wings can be "cooked and served in any way" as long as they "showcase the versatility of this mighty poultry appendage."
Despite my great love of food, I was surprised that people felt so passionately about the chicken wing. Everything was subject to a gourmet twist - the gentrification of food if you will. And that's exactly what we saw at Wing Fest. Featuring some of the biggest names in chicken wings such as Wingmans, Absurd Bird, Buffalo Joes, Butchies, Le Bun and We Serve Humans - they were all as cool as their branding let on. Immaculately presented by bearded men, we didn't see anything that resembled your average bucket of chicken wings.
So we began making the rounds. Despite enjoying most of the wings that we sampled, Wingmans, the two time winner of London Wing Fest, naturally took the top spot for the buffalo wing. Buttery, tangy and cooked to perfection, the reining champions really showed how it was done.
In terms of the wild wing category, We Serve Humans' amusingly dubbed "Covefefe" wing was a delight - sweet and then sour, it had hints of coffee and citrus. On the other hand, True Wings' entry, the Wing Commander nearly burnt our mouths off, ruining an otherwise perfectly prepared and glazed wing.
The real dark horse, however, was Butchies. Their wing was drenched in buffalo sauce and accompanied with a blue cheese dip. All three judges were left quiet after eating it - a true indication of success.
I was curious to see what exactly comprised the ideal chicken wing as my amateur tastebuds have never disliked one. Pitmaster, BBQ legend and lothario Dr. Sweetsmoke was naturally the best person to ask. According to him, the holy-grail of chicken wings put presentation first, taste second and texture third. I mean, who would have known?
But by our 10th chicken wing, we were walking around in a veritable daze, our stomachs full of chicken wings, beer and more chicken wings. As Ed, a fellow judge corroborated, it quickly became apparent that "some people try to do too much." He added: "last year there were quite a few wings that tried to be too elaborate and it kind of ruined it”.
This continued on until it was time for Dr. Sweetsmoke's incinerating Lava Wing Challenge. The event had been rather hyped up by Ed earlier, who alleged that last year, "two people passed out, one person threw up and only three people completed it". And whilst not everybody was able to finish, there was no one who looked like they truly couldn't handle it either. But maybe, by this point, their tongues were slightly fireproof.
I must have consumed over 30 chicken wings throughout the day, and yes, there was a point when it all got too much. I mean, a dizzying amount of beer and spice will get to even the most devoted of foodies. Around 4pm, I ran smack bang into a dark pit of chicken wing-induced despair, and no amount of my personal favourite, the Korean-inspired wild wing could resuscitate me. The old adage of too much of a good thing being, you know, too much certainly rang true.
When we found out that Butchies were crowned winner, however, it all came flooding back. Whilst all the wings were tasty, Butchies took the sauce because not only were their wings delicious, but their sportsmanship, presentation and all-around attitude set them leagues apart from other vendors. As Dr. Sweetsmoke said to Butchies on behalf of the judges: "We couldn't get over the passion, creativity and involvement from the whole team. You are on to something really special." Wing Fest, you did not disappoint.