Wingin’ it: Buffalo Wingfest attracts students and community members to taste a hometown specialty
Fifteen minutes before the College Wing Eating Competition began at the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in downtown Buffalo Saturday, Ethan Mirenberg’s friends signed him up.
After his friends begged the coordinators to allow him to participate, Mirenberg, a graduate accounting student, scarfed down 25 chicken wings in less than 10 minutes – and took home first place.
This weekend was the 14th annual National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival, more commonly known as Wingfest. The event lasted Saturday and Sunday and allowed community members and visitors from around the world to taste flavors from various vendors of Buffalo’s famous export: the chicken wing. The event included musical performances, competitions and of course, plenty of eating.
People from all 50 states and 64 different countries came to Buffalo for the festival and were eager to try the wings being offered. Twenty-eight vendors were present, including Buffalo Wild Wings, La Nova Pizzeria and Randy’s Wing Bar from London, England. The vendors set up camp at Coca Cola Field in downtown Buffalo, right off Washington Street.
The two-day event featured various competitions in addition to the ten-person College Wing Eating Competition – in which UB students also took second and third place. Saturday featured competitions like the Amateur Creative Sauce-Off, Bobbing for Wings and the Restaurant Awards Ceremony. A stage at the corner of the stadium hosted all the events, with the competitions playing on the Jumbotron so wing-eaters could watch in between hand wiping and dips into blue cheese.
One of the competitions on Sunday, the Miss Buffalo Wing Pageant, featured three young women. The winner, Cheyenne Oar, is a junior at Daemon College.
“I signed up a couple weeks before and prepared for it,” Oar said. “I studied up on the history of wings, in case they asked me any questions.”
The festival featured original wing flavors like the “Chili Nacho Wing” from LaNova and the “Rock Lobster” from Boneheads. Some vendors advertised their wings from most mild to the hottest. Quaker’s Steak and Lube used a scale: the safest choice was the Kentucky Bourbon while Ghost Pepper sits at the top.
Boneheads had the largest, most eclectic variety of wings sauces from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (maple bacon) to “Eye of the Tiger” (spicy golden BBQ with balsamic) to “Wrong Side of the Road” (honey Sriracha).
“I tried the Creamsicle wing, and it was surprisingly really good,” said Kristen Gengrich, a junior business major. “I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was different than anything else I had.”
Some vendors like Eric Zimmerman didn’t even bother to sell food. Zimmerman sold his invention, “trongs” – a device to help eat wings while avoiding messy hands. It focuses on triangulating the bone, like a claw machine, to hold the wing most efficiently. The utensil acts as a polite, easy to use way to enjoy the Buffalo delicacy while also maintaining a clean appearance.
“Buffalo seemed like the right place to market,” Zimmerman said. “We’re trying to appeal to a different kind of culture – cell phone culture – where we are constantly using touch screens and can’t afford to be constantly wiping our hands. This is going to become the fourth utensil – chopsticks, forks, spoons and trongs.”
Wings weren’t the only food on the menu. Perry’s Ice Cream, cupcakes and different beer distributors speckled the festival. Many of them are on a mobile marketing tour in which they travel to a different city each weekend for a new festival.
One of these vendors, Cupcake Vineyard, handed out nearly 4,500 giveaways Saturday. For one of the employees, Joe Rivers, the festival was more than a business opportunity.
“I’m from Buffalo and I used to go to Wingfest when I lived around here,” Rivers said. “I went to Buffalo State and used to come every year since it was right downtown. It’s nice to be back here, back home.”
Frank’s Hot Dogs was one of the represented and familiar restaurants amongst many newcomers. The stand utilized the crowd to introduce new flavors of wing, including sweet chili and Sriracha.
“We’ve been coming here for the past few years,” said Melanie Heger, an account manager at Frank’s. “Yesterday we gave out about 1,500 giveaways, and we’re looking at similar numbers today. “
Festival-goers Derek and Kanan Wright sampled chocolate wings from RuChDa Wings, appreciated the weather and reflected on the how Wingfest has improved.
“There are definitely a lot more people here this year,” said Derek Wright. “We came last year just to check it out but it rained – the nice weather makes the day better.”
Tori Roseman is the senior features editor and can be reached at email@example.com.