LAKE PLACID - Sweet and spicy. That's how they like their chicken wings in Lake Placid.
The winner of this year's Wing Wars VI competition Sunday, Nov. 10 at Wiseguys was Generations Restaurant at the Golden Arrow Resort. This was Chef David Hunt's first year at Wing Wars, and he made quite an impression. His tactic going head-to-head against seven other restaurants was to grab a springtime recipe.
"I wanted to promote maple for the upcoming maple season and hopefully a great maple weekend in Lake Placid," Hunt said. "So we created a smokey maple chipotle."
With help from Veronica Montes, Hunt handed out hundreds of chicken wings to people Sunday on the first floor of Wiseguys. With 4,000 wings in the room, a blindfolded person could tell what people were eating as they watched football and drank beer.
"The smell is incredible. I wish we could bottle it and sell it," said Jim Williams, vice president and general sales manager of WSLP-FM, who co-organized Wing Wars.
The eight establishments each brought 500 wings to be judged by the crowd and a panel of local celebrity judges. For a $12 admission fee, it was an all-you-can-eat experience - as long as the wings lasted.
Chef David Hunt of Generations Restaurant shows off his award-winning smokey maple chipotle chicken wings during Wing Wars VI Nov. 10 at Wiseguys. The event raised more than $4,000 for North Country Life Flight and was sponsored by WSLP-FM. Photo by Andy Flynn
Wing Wars is an annual fundraiser for North Country Life Flight, the region's air medical rescue team based at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear. This year's event raised $4,547, and more than 300 people attended, according to Williams. All of the door proceeds were donated to Life Flight, as were funds generated from raffles and a silent auction.
The Wing Warriors
In the heat of the Wing Wars battle were several establishments that had not yet won the competition: Generations, Price Chopper, The Cottage Cafe, Delta Blue and Redneck Bistro.
Terry Chevalier of Price Chopper handed out chicken wings next to WSLP radio personality Paul Varga, who was playing upbeat tunes for the crowd on the first floor.
"The tactic going in was to make something people really liked and that they can buy in the store," Chevalier said, adding that Price Chopper changed its recipe from last year in the hope of winning the top vote. "It was a little sweeter and a little spicier."
Brianna Robison, the food and beverage manager at Delta Blue, decided to bring the same recipe as last year, with a few tweaks.
"We're trying to perfect it," Robison said. "They're house-smoked wings, so we're here to show what the flavor is at the restaurant. We smoke all our ribs, chickens and pork butts right in house, and we're trying to give people a sample of our hickory-smoked meats."
Then there were the past Wing War winners: defending 2012 champion Dancing Bears Restaurant at High Peaks Resort; 2008, 2009 and 2011 Wing Wars champ Wiseguys; and 2010 Wing Wars champ Kanu Restaurant at Whiteface Lodge.
Greg Barth, the chef de cuisine and banquet chef at Kanu, has competed two of the past four years. Kanu tries a different recipe each year. This time it was bourbon chestnut chicken wings.
"It's a fun time," Barth said. "Everybody enjoys themselves and raises money for Life Flight. It just can't be beat."
Defending champion Chuck Brucculeri, executive chef at the Dancing Bears, created a unique recipe just for Wing Wars VI and hopes to put it on the restaurant's menu sometime soon.
"We try something new every year," Brucculeri said. "It's a maple habanero with bourbon apple chutney. ... It's spicy, but the apple kind of cools it down a little."
Asked if there was any pressure trying to hold onto the Wing Wars title, Brucculeri said, "Not really. We'd like win, but it's a lot of fun."
As for multiple-year champion Wiseguys, home-field advantage doesn't play into the equation, according to Lisa Planty, the self-described "owner, manager, janitor, waitress and bartender" at Wiseguys. Tried and true, they have stuck with her husband Nick's recipe for years, and they weren't going to change this time. After all, Wing Wars has been held at other venues, and Wiseguys still won.
"It is the popular favorite that we serve every day," Planty said. "I am very confident that we'll be in the running this year. ... Everybody loves our wings."
Although David Hunt's recipe from Generations was voted No. 1 this year, it is not clear by how many votes. Was it close? Williams isn't saying. There's no points for second place in Wing Wars.
When the four celebrity judges walked into Wiseguys, Williams escorted them to their booth - past the silent auction table and the bar - in the far corner of the establishment, near the glowing popcorn machine. Television sets were in every corner of the room, and sounds from different NFL football games filled the air.
The first-ever Wing Wars judges were Jim Tolkan, actor from movies like "Back to the Future" and "Top Gun"; Craig Randall, mayor of the village of Lake Placid; Kevin Gregg, chef and owner of Caffe Rustica Restaurant; and Zack Morse, a radio personality from Philadelphia. The crowd also received ballots to vote for their favorite wing recipe, and the popular vote was counted as the fifth judge.
As Tolkan took his seat, he was glad to see a TV at the booth and asked a waitress to change the channel to the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game. Ice water was placed on the table to cleanse the judges' palettes. Tolkan asked for Coca-Cola.
This was the first time any of these men had judged a chicken wing contest.
"We're all purists," said the Lake Placid mayor, who is also a trustee for North Country Life Flight. "Anything we can do to promote Life Flight and raise funds for it is absolutely worthwhile."
This was the first time the Philadelphia DJ had visited Lake Placid, arriving for Wing Wars the day before. The other judges welcomed him to the Olympic village.
"I've spent a little time here," Randall said. "About 71 years' worth."
The judging took place on the second floor because the wings were on the first floor. It was a blind judging, so they needed to be separated from the contestants. Williams was the go-to guy, walking up and down the stairs, picking up and delivering wings in white, styrofoam containers.
"Do not feel you need to eat all of these," Williams said as he delivered the first batch of wings.
"These are all from one?" Tolkan asked.
"These are all from one kitchen," Williams replied.
"You guys need anything else right now?" the waitress asked.
"I need about 10 napkins," Tolkan said.
The mayor may not have judged chicken wings before, but he has judged other contests and gave a little friendly advice as they began tasting the first wings.
"One of the things I've always learned on the 1-to-10 scale is that if you start too high in the beginning, if you find something great, you've got nowhere to go," Randall said.
Williams left the judges to their wings.
"While you're enjoying number one, I'm going to get number two," Williams said.
True to his word, the mayor gave the first batch of chicken wings an 8, saving room for a higher score. He then gave the second batch a 9.
"The first one had a lot of nice kick to it, and the second one had just a nice taste on the palette," Randall said. "The sauce really gave it a nice, smooth texture."
Some restaurants were serving sauce, such as blue cheese dressing, with their wings. The first batch did not include sauce, but the second had blue cheese.
"Not blue cheese and chicken. Not me," Tolkan said.
Asked if he was a ranch dressing and chicken wings guy, Tolkan replied, "I'm not a chicken wings guy at all," Tolkan said. "That's why I'm a tough judge here. One of the things I judge here is the quality of the chicken itself, not just the sauce."
With judging complete, Wing Wars would soon have a new champion, and the mayor reflected on his first chicken wing judging experience.
"It went really well, " Randall said. "We felt there was a strong Asian influence in the selection. The hot wings, which were a little deviation from the chicken wings, I understand are going home with one of the judges now. I'm a traditional chicken wing guy. My first chicken wings I had out in a neighborhood bar in Buffalo, so I'm always looking for that exact same experience, but they've evolved a long way since then with all kinds of sauces. We were bombarded with ginger, some honey and some mustard, a lot of different flavors."
The first time the mayor ever tried chicken wings was in Buffalo, at the Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo chicken wings.
"I was visiting friends there. They said, 'You've got to come out and try our wings,'" Randall said.
Restaurants now have a year to prepare their recipes for Wing Wars VII in 2014. Then we'll know whether Generations Restaurant still has the best chicken wings in Lake Placid.