Thursday, 4 February 2010

89 Chestnut's "BATTLE of the WINGS"

"Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience an event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage. 1969: Man walks on the moon. 1971: Man walks on the moon ... again. Then, for a long time, nothing happened. Until tonight." Paraphrase from Krusty the Klown

I had the great privilege of receiving an e-mail to be a judge at one of the greatest culinary competitions known to man (in my opinion). My old employment and home, the 89 Chestnut Residence at the University of Toronto, brought me back for, get this, The Battle of the Wings.

Yes, one night where the Executive Chef Jaco and his three sous chef's Eddie, Fitzpatrick, and Nathan duked it out to see who's wings would reign supreme. Who could create the best wings. Who, for a night, would be king of the wings?

Students and staff would vote between the four, and I would represent 25% of the vote. What an honour, and responsibility. And you know what they say, with great wing powers comes great wing responsibilities.

I was excited to be back and to see old friends and familiar faces. But as the years have gone on, the familiar faces have become fewer and fewer. Very few students knew who I was, but by the end of the night, a lot more would know who the Lord of the Wings was and what he was about.

The event ran from 4:45pm until roughly 8pm when all the wings had finally run out. The residence has about 1000 students, so there were a lot of people there for wings. Students even brought a lot of friends over to dine. Clearly, this was the night to eat at Chestnut.

While I actually ran into what seemed like every vegetarian, or those who don't eat chicken when encouraging students to vote, there really there were a lot of students eating wings. I heard from various kitchen staff that between 800 and 1000 pounds of chicken wings were consumed. Wow. In fact, in my four years at Chestnut, I never saw a food line-up that was consistent for 3 hours, where the wing trays needed to be filled every few minutes. The wings came from frozen on Monday (for Thursday) where prep began for some chefs. The chicken itself is halal, so even those with religious restricted diets could partake. Starting at 11am the morning of the event the wings hit the ovens and deep fryers.

The wings were served buffet style, in big trays that ran out so quick that one didn't need worry about wings sitting around. The trays were huge, but so were the students appetites. Above is sous chef Nathan carrying one of said trays (although he's carrying his competitor's wings and not his own).

The competitors are four excellent chef's. When people first hear of the residence's cafeteria, they think of slop on a tray and negative food encounters that they had when they were in university or college. But 89 Chestnut was a hotel when UofT bought it, and with it came Jaco and his professionally trained crew who produce amazing food.

In the past, I did a series known as the Chestnut Report (in the spirit of the Colbert Report) talking about the wings in the caf (check it out, over on the right column under 'labels'). The wings were good. But knowing that these 4 professionals were going to focus on wings, I knew something legendary was brewing. I heard stories that camps had formed amongst the staff, spies were watching out, culinary espionage was underway to find out the secrets of each other sauces and wings. The chef's went all out for the event and I was excited to see how it would turn out.

Fitzroy Atkinson's wings were the first up in the line of trays. Nicknamed 'Fit Fitz' for his athleticism, Fitz's wings were 'all jerked up' - basically jerk wings. He marinated them in jerk seasonings, ginger etc for two days so as to infuse them with flavour. After the first day you get your hands right in and mix the wings up so every one got marinade. Once they were finished, into the ovens to be roasted to perfection.

Executive Chef Jaco Lokker, 'The Frying Dutch Man's' wings were up next. His wings were called 'battered up and spiced up'. The wings themselves went through an intense flour dusting, then breading, and another dusting before being deep fried. The sauce was a slightly spicy BBQ sauce and the chicken had 14 herbs and spiced included. The key he told me was using whipped butter in the sauce to cling to the wing. I had never thought of that, but it has really got me thinking for making my own wings.

Nathan Barratt, 'the Fusion King' had his wings third in line. Nathan and I have a bit of a wing history, as he used to make me some killer suicide sauces for the wings in the caf (something he reminded me of once or twice that evening to influence judging). This night, he went a different way with his wings, 'that are all spiced and no where to go'. Breaded, then baked, he served his special fusion sauce on the side. Some of the ingredients included mandarin oranges, coriander, vinegar - a real fusion sauce.

Edward Low, 'Fast Eddie' was last but certainly not least in line. 'Flour it, spice it, toss it' was the mantra of these wings. Or, dusted in flour, deep fried, then tossed in a sauce that involved ketchup, spices, garlic and more. Eddie then 'cooked the ketchup out of the sauce', leaving a sweet/spicy flavour

The line ups formed quick and I decided I better grab a plate before they were all gone. I plated two of each, sampling one to just enjoy the wings, then having the second one and I really explored the wings. Then later that night I did the same thing again with a few more wings each.

Each chef really brought their A games to the competition. Judging was going to be very difficult because each of these wings were so unique. Breaded, dusted, deep fried, baked, marinated . . . this was not going to be easy.

Fitzroy's wings had a good jerk marinade. Not spicy, but full of flavour. The two day marinade really made a difference as the sauce penetrated the skin into the chicken meat. I would have liked the heat/spice to be much higher, but for the general population, these were just right.

Jaco's wings were enormous - easily twice the size of the competition after breading. It was a massive breading that was very crunchy. One student felt the wings, while really tasty, were cheating because they were deep fried, because apparently deep fried wings are no longer wings. I have no idea where that concept ever came from, but I think he might have meant breading, not deep frying. While delivering a big crunch, they but had the right amount of sauce to make for a great combo.

Nathan's wings were really crispy for a baked wing. The star of these wings were the sauce on the side. When you put the sauce in your mouth, there is a lot going on. It was sweet, tart, a little spicy. Fruity. Very unique and not like anything you've had before. A good sauce, but I have to admit, I was sad there was no suicide sauce (but not a good idea to use to win a wing competition, so I understand).

Eddie's wings were like a classic pub wing. Dusted and deep fried, they had a nice crispy skin. The sauce was slightly sweet, but savoury. It was mild in spiciness, and the flavour was subtle, but made you want one after another.

After eating the wings, students grabbed a voting sheet and voted for their favourite. Across the board, the opinions were that all the wings were excellent and that choosing was going to be hard. There were definitely those that had their favourites. Over 300 ballots were put in, and then I made my decision.

It was a tough call. They were all so good. But chicken wings are a very personal thing. I liked them all. To decide, I reduced it down to a choice: if I could only have one more plate of only one of the wings, which would it be?

The students picked Jaco's wings, but I put it over the top with my vote. The whole competition was very close. I picked Jaco's because they were a meal in themselves. Sometimes when a wing is breaded as heavily as these were, the coating can be rock hard - but these were just right. The meat was tender inside, and the sauce was sweet with a little bit of spice. They were right up my flavour alley. Sorry to Eddie Nathan and Fitzroy - valiant efforts. Eddie, I'm glad your talking to me again.

It was a fun night with a lot of chicken wings consumed. I really want to thank Manager Glenn Edwards who brought me down, housed and fed me at the Chestnut for the weekend. It was great to be back and thanks for helping to promote Lord of the Wings.

The event was a complete success, Jaco won the 'Golden Chicken', and I hear this is going to be an annual event. Keep up the good work and hopefully I get invited back to see what the team comes up with next year!

For a few more photos head over to the Wing Bucket.

1 comment:

Teena in Toronto said...

Wing tasting would be heaven!