Gastown chicken fight: BBQ wing competition
I was delighted to be asked to be one of the three judges for this year’s annual “Gastown Chicken Fight”. This is the sixth time that “The Lamplighter Pub” has invited wing lovers to their neighbourhood competition. A match up where teams compete to see who will “bask in the glory of being Gastown’s wing masters”. An afternoon with chicken topped trophies, $5 beer specials, and plenty of Jim Beam bourdon.
To skip the reading, visit my YouTube channel: MaggiMei. And watch my behind the scenes look at the competition, with a play by play of each wing and their creative competitors.
This afternoon, eight Gastown restaurants and pubs were pitted head to head with the goal of preparing the best wing. This was to be determined in terms of taste, originality, and presentation; as decided by the judges. The rules: each competing team was given 20lbs of wings the night before and a bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon (6 year aged whiskey), to utilize in their preparation of it. The next day all teams arrived at “Lamplighter” with their wings already marinated and ready for their time on the grill. Competitors were given 30 minutes to set up and start cooking, out on the patio.
The smoke, sights, and smells attracted the attention of many on-lookers. Passer-byers who had to ask what was going on, especially given the amount of paparazzi photo taking and video recording that was going on, which included the likes of me. That is why I was surprised that this wasn’t a more popular event. And I can’t believe I am only hearing about it now. Had I known, I would have been here for the event, all six years prior; just like a handful of those in the audience today.
Each team was given their time across one of the three lengthy grills, at random draw. One by one they approached the barbecue and one by one they flipped, tossed, sauced and plated. When the wings were cooked and ready to go, they were served up in individual portions to us judges. With the rest heaped on high across metal serving trays, and then served piece-meal style to all those in attendance.
The final outcome of the completion would be based on the combined votes of the judges, with consideration given to the fan favourite. The latter was a decision made by casting your ballot (a white pebble) into the ballot box (a glass carafe) labeled with a restaurant’s name. The one with the most at the bottom would be the people’s champion.
Before we begin, just a warning: Between all the beers and shots I had, while trying to take photos and shoot videos, simultaneously carrying out my judging responsibilities; I did not capture all the footage I would have liked to, or even in a quality that was usable. Similarly, this post will not be in my typical thorough writing style, as I failed to take many notes. For once I lived more in the present, than trying to remember this day in the past.
But at the end of the day, it was a great event, and one I would love to attend again, hopefully returning as a judge, but if not, just to participate as an audience member would be nice.
The following wings are in the order in which their restaurant name was drawn and they were invited to cook and present.
First, representing the establishment we were currently in today was the “Lamplighter” wing. Inspired by chicken adobo, served with a cooling, tangy creamy dip.
Next was Mamie Taylor’s, who ended up wining third place for their Caroline style mustard wings with Kentucky bourbon, and pork floss topping. It looked cheesy, but tasted zesty.
The kitchen staff from the “Blarney Stone” took a more classic approach with their French cured wing in an orange Demi-glaze.
And last year’s champions “Bao Down” were back to defend their title with their Hong Kong style chicken jerky. Apparently within this competition they are known for their unique interpretation of the challenge. Here they removed the wing component completely, serving their chicken as jerky in a lettuce wrap topped with a Filipino style sauce and a pickled pineapple slaw.
The team from the “Metropole” pub were quick to finish their saucy wing coated in a sprinkling of crushed ketchup chips. They also added flair to the judge’s table by pulling out bottles of Smirnoff Ices from their pants and cracking them open for us to enjoy. We all appreciated a good bribe.
First place unanimously went to “Clough club”, six years competing and they finally won their first trophy, and first place to boot. Theirs was a pickled back wing that tasted like dill pickle chips. An unexpected twist accompanied by fried kale.
New to the Gastown area, and attending their first “Chicken Fight”, was “Crab Park”. Although, most notable for their seafood, they took this poultry challenge and made it their own. They prepared a salted caramel wing which held up. It didn’t necessarily pair well with the salty chowder. But when presented with a hot serving of chunky and creamy chowder in an edible bowl, we were happy.
And last, but not least was barbecue house, “Pekinpah”. They played off their strength and made a smokey wing. Cream soda braised bourbon wings, topped with a pickled jalapeño and peach salsa.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
What a fun way to dine: a dinner and an interactive show. I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for this one and joining the “Lamplighter” crew for year seven in 2018. Don’t deny your cravings.