National Buffalo Wing Fest 2014 was popular amongst UB students

Attendance for the annual event reached 72,000

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The once dispersed crowd content with trying dozens of vendors’ wings began to cluster around the stage as announcements that the “Ridiculously Hot Wing Eating Competition” was about to begin rang through Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo.

Contestants dressed in red shirts with blue rubber gloves on their hands walked up on stage and took their places behind the table, while pans of wings were brought on stage. The steam and fumes from the sauce lathered wings rose through the air. The crowd’s anticipation grew and the competitors put on their game faces. It was show time.

Tears ran down one competitors face as he began tearing into the 25 wings that lay before him. Another competitor began bouncing up and down, dancing as he took one more bite toward victory. The true victor, however, was already claiming his lead.

“Jorge is on a mission … Jorge is an animal,” the announcer quipped of Jorge Jaramillo, 35, of Tafton, Pennsylvania, who decimated the 25 wings in six minutes, and once ate 10 wings in 1.5 seconds, according to the announcer.

“They were fun [and] pretty hot,” Jaramillo said holding an ice cream sandwich and trophy in hand minutes after the competition had ended. “My mouth is still burning.”

Jaramillo wasn’t the only person with a burning mouth inside Coca-Cola Field. Over the weekend, hundreds of students and thousands of people flocked to the 13th annual National Buffalo Wing Festival and consumed thousands of pounds of wings. Last year’s attendants consumed more than 20 tons of wings – that’s 40,000 pounds of chicken – according to the event’s official website.

Fans of the animated feature film Osmosis Jones were the first to see the National Buffalo Wing Festival or Wing Fest when fast food junkie Frank DeTorre (Bill Murray, The Grand Budapest Hotel) attended the event. But at the time it didn’t actually exist. Inspired by the film’s celebration of chicken wings, Buffalonian Drew “Wing King” Cerza created the event in 2002 and it has been a local tradition since.

Since its conception, the event has become a mecca for chicken wing fans from all over the world. This year’s attendance reached 72,000, according to Cerza, and the event’s Twitter said that all 50 states and 51 countries were represented by attendants.

“It was awesome,” Cerza said. “The energy was fantastic and it was probably the best vibe we’ve had. There was a great vibe out there.”

Entry to the event was $5 per person and tickets for food sold at $1 per ticket. Each wing cost one ticket, or $1, and some food options like pizza or chicken wing soup cost two or more tickets.

This year featured wing-themed creations from more than 20 companies, including local favorites like Danny’s Buffalo Cuisine and Bocce Club Pizza. Out-of-state participants like Booty’s Wings, Burgers and Beer and Native Grill and Wings from Arizona traveled to the event. Traditional chains, such as Brick House Tavern and Buffalo Wild Wings, made appearances as well.

Most companies featured variations of barbequed, grilled or traditionally sauced wings, but some had odd flavors like peanut butter and jelly. Some companies even brought original creations like Ru’s Pierogi’s chicken wing pierogi and Danny’s signature chicken wing soup.

“It was a mix up from having a classic barbeque, like a classic wing sauce,” said Dominic Grisanzio, a freshman pharmacy major, after eating a peanut butter and jelly wing – the oddest wing he found at the festival. “It didn’t go together. I was expecting it to be a sauce, but it was just peanut butter and jelly on the wing. It was weird.”

Grisanzio, like many others, said he enjoyed the ability to try good food in a festival environment with his friends.

The wings Jaramillo ate during his competition may have been hot, but he said they weren’t the hottest at the event. One of the hottest laid in wait for attendees at the popular Quaker Steak & Lube tent – so spicy that foodies had to sign a waiver.

After signing this waiver, brave wing fanatics were able to try the company’s hottest wing: the Triple Atomic. At a staggering 500,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), this wing is 167 times hotter than their standard hot wing (3,000 SHU). With a T-shirt on the line, the challenge was much less a test of finishing the wing, or wings for the truly courageous, as it was a test of oral torture and endurance.

“It wasn’t bad until about a minute after I ate the wing and [I had] a burning pain down my throat,” Grisanzio said. “It pretty much felt like I was eating fire and water couldn’t help much. I just had to wait it out,” he said.

Grisanzio said that the T-shirt was definitely worth the 10-15 minutes of agony he experienced and that he would do it again given the chance.

For some, the Triple Atomic was just an itch in their throat, others cried for minutes on end until the pain subsided, but not everyone needed to eat the hottest wing on the menu to feel the burn.

“I’m still crying,” said Corey Rosen, a senior communication and film studies major after she at Quaker Steak & Lube’s “SuperCharged” wing (30,000 SHU). “I think, I’ve cried off all my make up. I like spicy, but that was too hot. I didn’t think it would be that spicy, so I went for it and now I’m kind of sad that I did. I wasted a wing.”

While spice connoisseurs and wing fanatics alike climbed the SHU scale from tent to tent, good old-fashioned mild, medium and hot wings remained the most popular option.

This was (716) Food and Sport’s executive chef, Andrew Nuernberger’s, first year at Wing Fest. He said the restaurant went through more than 1,000 pounds of wings the first day, mainly of their popular dry rub or beer and barbeque sauce wings. The company earned the rookie of the year trophy and was popular for their wings made from locally produced ingredients.

Wing Fest returned competitions ranging from the “Ridiculously Hot Wing Eating Competition,” a college wing eating competition, to the “National Wing Eating Championship,” which was televised on ESPN3, along with a crowd favorite chicken wing based twist on bobbing for apples – water substituted with blue cheese and apples for chicken wings.

“The world championship was special because it helped make the event unique,” Cerza said. “Being on TV is the type of thing that can take your event to the next level.”

Contestants and attendees seemed to enjoy themselves, but some had issues with this year’s celebration of all things chicken wing.

Like Grisanzio, Emily Cook, a senior social science major, enjoyed the environment and opportunity to try different wings, but she found the event “a little disorganized.”

Zack Basmajian, a senior environmental studies major, was attending Wing Fest for the second time and had issues with the pricing. The $5 entrance fee, he said, should include a bottle of water, which cost $4 within the event, or at least few tickets for food. He also thinks the wings could be a little cheaper, and he wasn’t alone.

“A dollar per chicken wing, come on, that’s crazy,” said Noel Tennant, who recently graduated from UB with a degree in communication. “I think they should be like, 50 cents.”

Tennant said she thought the event was a “one and done type thing.” But despite their complaints, Basmajian and others said they would go back again.

Even before the clean up was complete, Cerza already started planning for next year’s big Buffalo wing bash.

email: arts@ubspectrum.com