“The Great Chicken Wing Hunt,” Makes it to the Screen
Back in 2007 producer/director Matt Reynolds and his ragtag tour mates came to Bolton Landing on a mission searching for the world’s best chicken wings. Although it has been nearly seven years since the film project began, “The Great Chicken Wing Hunt” finally made it to the international scene.
On Friday, April 4, 2014 the film made its debut at the Palm Beach International Film Festival at an 8 p.m. screening in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The film sees Reyonlds return to his hometown of Lyons, N. Y. (outside of Rochester) from his journalism job with Reuters News Agency in Slovakia, to track down the best Buffalo-style chicken wings he can find.
Wings were once an unloved part of the chicken. Back in 1964, butchers sold them for pennies. Restaurants used them, if it all, in soup. One morning a distributor mistakenly delivered a crate of wings to the Anchor Bar, a restaurant in downtown Buffalo owned by Italian immigrants Frank and Teressa Bellissimo.
Teressa wants to send the crate back but Frank doesn’t want to bother the distributor. A fight ensues. What is she going to do with all those wings? Later that night, unable to sleep, Teressa gets up, goes to her kitchen, and begins experimenting. By dawn, the Buffalo wing was born. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Buffalo wing (the exact date is believed to be March 4, 1964)
In an interview with the Lake George Mirror in 2007 Reynolds re-called that when he was overseas he introduced a number of his friends to buffalo chicken wings. “I would make a bunch of them and invite a group of friends to come over and join me,” he said. “We were drinking heavily one night and we got this idea to go back to the U.S. and have a wing tour,” Reynolds says early in the film. The tour, he adds, “changed my whole life.”
“The reason I wanted to come to Bolton is because I worked there in the summer of 1998 and that summer I met a bunch of Slovaks working in town. They convinced me that I should return to Europe with them,” he said. Reynolds said that if he had not been in Bolton and met those people he would not have gone overseas and probably would not have become a journalist.
From New York City to Buffalo’s Anchor Bar (the alleged birthplace of the wing) Reynolds group travelled 2,627 miles and ate 284 varieties of wings. In 16 days on the road, Wing Hunt’s six official judges and six film crew ate a total of 4,000 wings, which works out to roughly 400,000 calories. After the Wing-Hunters almost mutinied over sleeping conditions and lack of non-wing meals, producers eased off on the schedule, creating time to sleep in and have a relaxing dinner. One evening the hunters grilled steak for dinner.
Reynolds tour mates include his Czech girlfriend, a semi-professional eater (?), an amateur sauce-maker, a Hawaiian chef based in Prague and a couple of wing-obsessed misfits recruited on-line. Their personal stories become almost as important as the hunt.
Filming in Bolton began at the Lakeside Lodge and Grille where owner Art Baker offered up his version of regular Buffalo wings and stepped-up version he called “The Double”. Baker said those wings were dipped, fried, double-dipped and fried again. Baker said he brought in Jason Malone, his top wing maker to prepare the sampling for the “judges”.
After a short break the film crew and the tasters moved north to Fredrick’s Restaurant. Co-owner Stuart Smith offered one of their signature wing dishes. “Connie (Maxum) will serve up a variation on the “Hoopes Wings” that are so popular with the locals. She’ll be doing a ‘semi-Hoopes’ that won’t be as crispy as the original recipe,” he said as the tasters gathered around a table on the outside deck.
The scorecards used by the Wing-Hunters were developed by esteemed cancer researcher Albert Levin. The quest eventually ends in the very countryside of Reynolds’ childhood, where he discovers that the perfection he has sought so hard to find was right under his nose all along.
Spoiler: The Anchor’s wings were not voted the best. You’ll have to see the film to find out who the winner is. It’s available on iTunes for $12.99.