Football has the World Cup, WWE has Wrestlemania and American Football has the Super Bowl. Everything beautiful needs a glorious final where competitors go head to head in order to find out who is better than the rest. And now, the scared chicken wing has the London Wing Fest.
What started out as a small event last year is rapidly becoming a must visit event with foodies and wing-nuts. I caught up with Richard Thacker (pictured centre) from Wing Fest who shed some light on his passion of wings and his hopes for this year’s Wing Fest.
When was the first time you fell in love with wings?
it was when I was 12 on a family skiing holiday to New England, and I remember sitting there with my Dad (who’s a chicken farmer) and I couldn’t believe how tasty they were! Yet my dad said how he couldn't get rid of them back home, and would literally throw these away! 20 years ago people did not want to eat wings. He told me, when you get back to England, you have to do something with Wings…and I’ve never looked back! It planted the seed and after that we used to eat lots of wings at home.
Can you recall what the first flavour you had?
Naturally it was buffalo! That is probably what we got me, what set me into wings.
So where did the idea for Wing Fest come from?
Wing fest came from when i started thinking of opening a restaurant, I spent a lot of time planning a big trip to America to do some research. I stumbled across the national buffalo festival in America and i thought “oh my god, this exists? this is a real thing?!” We went to Buffalo in New York, met the wing king and he gave us plenty of tips for making an event in England. And it spiraled from there!
Were you surprised at last year’s success?
We were surprised at how much the capital clearly loved wings. We planned and turn around the event in 5 weeks, and we were obviously worried if it was enough time to shift 350 tickets. But it turns out people here love wings…
just as much as I do!
How does this year differ from last year?
The Size! We have more bars, more wings, more traders and more hot sauce! we have got a lot of new traders. Also, this year we have got a new format to have more wings available and with cheaper tickets. With all the new traders, we want people to be able to try wings from everyone.
What have been the main challenges for Wingfest?
It was probably in the first year, having to try to sell the idea to the traders and explaining that we want a festival where you can be crowned the best wings in London! Some people were great and jumped on board immediately; others needed some convincing. But once you have a few big names, it snowballed from there luckily.
Is the level of standard you have this year more than you hoped?
We have got some pretty big names this year! I think the high profile collaboration between the Rib Man and Motherclucker has definitely helped sell tickets! And the friendly trash talk has been great. I think the level of quality from year one has definitely gone up, as has the competition.
Who will be the dark horse?
That would be 2 new entrants this year. Buffalo Joes is purely based on chicken wings and he specialises in buffalo. Also, white men can't jerk have a great reputation and we've been informed to expect big things! We’re really excited about all the newbies.
What is the aspiration for wing fest?
The main aim, I think, is to be a nationally recognised, credible food festival. To garner enough interest to accommodate everyone who wants to take part – that would be great! Instead of having 12 traders, we would want 30!
Because the number of contenders is bigger, would you be tempted to do semi finals next year?
That’s the dream! If we could turn this into something more than a one day event, as a wing fan, absolutely! It would be tremendous. The thing is this year we have had to turn some competitors away due to the size of the venue. So the idea would be north and southern events, although it’s called London wing fest, its to find the best wings in the UK!
This isn't just for wing fanatics is it?
If you're into your street food or you're into food festivals then this is for you. We’ve got the Wild Wing challenge, which is a sort of wildcard to showcase the trader’s ability. We want to attract all foodies, but wing fanatics are naturally the big target crowd.
Theres now the Wingmen, the Wingadors…do you think wings are gaining a cult following in London?
I think so. In previous years, there were a few menus in places where you'd see wings. But now there are a lot more pop-ups and informal dining experiences that have exploded in the last 12 months.
Is there still room for improvement though?
Of course. In terms of the buffalo wings, Buffalo restaurants are still miles ahead. But in terms of other wings? there are some absolutely amazing new guys with a lot of talent, such as White Men Can’t Jerk. There’s also a lot of places trying new techniques like dry rubs that’s really impressed me.
What separates a good wing from bad wing?
It has got to be crispy! It’s absolutely key. You want a crunchy outer layer, no one likes a soggy wing! And certainly no batter….!!!
Couple of quickfire yes or no questions here for you Rich…
Blue cheese? Yes
Ranch dressing? Yes!
Boneless Wings, sacrilege? - Im going to say No. Theres always room for them, 100%, but they are not as good as the original wing…
Will you be entering Dr Sweetsmoke’s infamous chilli challenge this year?
And finally, what do you hope people leave Wing Fest thinking?
This year, we want people to leave thinking they’ve eat nothing but glorious wings all day! That would be a tremendous success.
MORE ON RICHARD THACKER
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