True Story: I was a judge at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York

posted on: Thursday, 17 October 2019

National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York
Can I just run that story headline by you again one more time… I was a judge at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York. An American, that moved to London 17 years ago came back to America, as a UK journalist, to take part in one of the finest food festivals in the United States. How did that happen? How am I writing this? Dreams really do come true people. Meeting Karl Lagerfeld. That was cool. Interviewing Anna Wintour. Yeah, that was pretty epic. Being asked to take part in a festival celebrating the most perfect food on the planet… I find myself at a loss for words. Only I have to find them, as I have to tell you what I was doing there, what happened while I was there, and why it’s absolutely worth making the trip if you ever have the chance. Now, where to start. 

I guess I should technically start with what the heck I was doing there, other than judging. Last week, I reintroduced you to the Orange Buffalo boys. These are the masterminds that are bringing proper American style buffalo wings, and more, to the masses in the UK. And they were, for the first time, making the journey to Buffalo, to participate in the annual National Buffalo Wing Festival. This is a big deal, people. To be a part of this festival is to go down in Buffalo Wing history and they have most definitely secured their place after this weekend in the limelight. So, there needed to be some UK press around this whole phenomenon, hence my invitation. And it was, initially, just a press invite that came from a passion for Buffalo wings and a love for the Orange Buffalo boys. Then it then became something even more surreal. We were asked to be judges while there – curating the category of best creative wing. Challenge accepted. 

Before we go any further, let’s have a little history lesson. What exactly is the National Buffalo Wing Festival and where the heck did it come from? Well, it all started with a movie, actually, called Osmosis Jones. The movie’s star, Bill Murray, mentions his ultimate goal is to attend the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York. Here’s proof in the form of a clip from the movie:

Now, the only problem here is thatat this point it’s totally fictional. The National Buffalo Wing Festival didn’t exist, until one man decided this was a thing that absolutely had to happen. In 2002, The Wing King Drew Cerza, as he is now affectionately known, took matters into his own hands and founded a festival like no other, but one only a character played by Bill Murray could have predicted. 

Since its founding, The National Buffalo Wing Festival has seen 5 million wings consumed, welcomed nearly 1 million people, had one wedding proposal and one wedding (can we make that two, please? I’m entirely down with the idea of marrying a Wing Prince with a Wing Ring). Nearly 200 restaurants from around the world have participated and each year the festival grows even larger as global press continue to share with the masses just how impressive this whole spread really is. And, ladies and gents, I’m proud to throw my hat into that ring. This is absolutely a festival worth attending. But that’s down to you to book the tickets and make it all happen. For now, sit back, enjoy my story and maybe grab a napkin or two so you don’t drool all over your keyboard or smart device.

This is the full story of attending and judging at a festival that might as well be the Oscars for me. Although I don’t see Gwyneth Paltrow escaping the festival in a Ralph Lauren baby pink dress without a Buffalo Wing smear or two on the skirt. So, here we go…

On the day of judging, I’d like to be able to tell you that I went with an empty stomach, fully aware of what was ahead. Alas, the food in Buffalo is too good to miss out. Breakfast was had, coffee downed by the gallon and we walked towards the festival thinking we’d be ready for “lunch” by the time we got there. 

Arriving on the scene, there were hundreds of hungry Buffalo wing enthusiasts waiting for the festival doors to officially open. As we approached the press tent, we passed fans who seemed to be perfectly accessorised for today’s festivities. They all seemed to have plates, perfectly sectioned for a variety of wings and sauces. The genius was found in the fact that said plate sat around a large cup. So, you could hold your drink and wings in one hand and eat with the other. Genius. Just genius. I already felt out accessorised.

National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York
After we obtained our “judging” lanyards, we headed in. A clipboard was obtained with the listing of every single Buffalo wings restaurant that was present on the day. We were asked to judge from one to ten on each wing presented, based on creativity and taste. As the general public began queuing to buy wings from all the different vendors, we were afforded the ultimate luxury – a chance to try every wing without waiting or paying. But, let’s remember we had serious responsibilities here. We were giving a rather prestigious award, but were also being asked to try some seriously “out there” recipes. Wait for it. 

So first things first, how many wings were consumed? Well, for judging, there were 23 vendors (I don’t remember how many wings I actually ate though…).  Yup, over a few hours, I consumed more chicken than I ever thought possible. We tried to stagger it, so each wing would get an equal chance at winning, but it still felt like a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. Next year (please invite me back), I’ll have to fast for a day or two before in preparation. It’s the only way forward.

National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York
At this point I’m sure you’re wondering what creativity looks like when it comes to buffalo wings. Well, let me enlighten you. We started with a peanut butter and jelly wing. Yes, a wing that tasted of peanut butter and jelly. There were several sweet concoctions, actually. The craziest, by far, was the fluffanutter wing. That’s peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. There were also wings based on traditional Buffalo New York roast beef sandwiches – known to local as beef on weck. Then there was the wing that was designed to taste like a sushi roll. High marks to the king of wings from The Virgin Islands for that creation. It was dead on. There were horseradish wings, hot wings, chicken parmesan wings and more. There was certainly no shortage of creativity present on the day, and the role of judge actually became quite daunting. So much talent, only one prize. 

Don’t worry – we judged fairly. As badly as we wanted to simply award our fellow brits with the big prize, we had to go in with an open mind and judge all the same.

While judging the competition was an honour, attending the festival itself would have been enough. What a weekend. We watched as Miss Buffalo Wing 2019 was crowned. We witnessed people bobbing for Buffalo wings in a pool of blue cheese. We even saw a few dozen people try the horrifically hot Viper Wing from Orange Buffalo. I’ve come away a changed woman. There was a point where I nearly asked the Wing King if he wanted to retain an in house PR. You bet your bottom dollar I’d throw my name back in the hat if that job came up for offer! Until next year, wing fans….

For more information visit https://buffalowing.com/
National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York
National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York
National Buffalo Wings Festival in Buffalo, New York