It was a feast for the masses, especially the masses who love sticky, saucy, spicy chicken wings. And love them they did.
Fairbanks residents searching for the best chicken wing the city has to offer turned out Sunday for the second annual Wingapalooza, a culinary contest with the title of “Lord of the Wings” at stake for the winner. The floor of the Carlson Center, 2010 Second Ave., turned into an impromptu food and game venue for the afternoon as guests sampled 13 wings from 10 food vendors, took part in a chicken wing eating contest, tossed some corn hole and sampled beers while listening to the Fairbanks band Firewall. It was a hit, and one the Carlson Center wants to grow.
SMG, the property management company that runs the Carlson Center, has held similar food contest events in the Lower 48 and those were the basis for the first Wingapalooza in 2018, said Aaron Marks, Carlson Center marketing and box office manager. This year, the Carlson Center staff expanded Wingapalooza, which included a craft beer tasting, a boxing tent, games, and a military competition between Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright chicken wing teams.
“Those were ways to make this our own event,” Marks said. “There was a lot of excitement going into it, and a lot of the vendors were excited about it.”
A crowd still packed the Carlson Center at the end of the day Sunday as Wingapalooza wrapped up, and that was a good sign, Marks said, in that it’s encouraging in creating the next wing event in 2020.
“What I’d love to see is 20 participants and have 10 of them in a sauce division and 10 in a dry rub division,” Marks said about future plans. “That’s my goal for next year and one of the ideas the Eielson folks had, and I think that’s really cool. That’s a way we could continue to grow this.”
Guests were given a judging sheet in which they scored each vendor’s wings based on preparation, appearance and flavor. A panel of guest judges also scored the wings. The end result was the grand winner — the Lord of the Wings — and a people’s choice winner. Snapping the Lord of the Wings title was the food truck The Fire for its pineapple Sriracha wings. Taking the title of people’s choice was Laurie Power, who also won the home chef contest, which allowed her to compete against food trucks, restaurants and caterers.
She and her 16-year-old son, Jacob Whitmer, have been making the wings together since he was 4, and they have their process down. Power wouldn’t divulge any ingredients, either.
“They’re tangy and they have a little hot kick at the end. I call them Twisted Dragon Wings,” she said. “You have to put your fruits in there and you do your thing and you pick out your hot sauce to get it just right.”
On the floor of the Carlson Center, vendors set up next to each while explaining their wings, cooking techniques and flavor profiles.
Two teams from Fort Wainwright, Wolves Den 1 and Wolves Den 2, worked their wing stand next to Eielson Air Force Base’s Yukon Club.
Jarred Neithamer and Cat Strock of Eielson served up a root beer barbecue wing that Neithamer created by reducing root beer, ketchup, vodka, jalapeno and ginger into a barbecue sauce.
“I’ve made it before, and me and another chef made this together,” Neithamer said. “I’ve never done anything like this before, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Right next door, the Fort Wainwright team of Larry Moseley and Daniel Mejia dished up a peanut butter and jelly wing made by dredging the wing in a peanut batter and topping it with a spicy jelly.
“This recipe is something I made on my own, something I just made up,” Moseley said. “I thought it would be fun to put it out in the competition and see how it holds up. The jelly itself probably took about six hours. A lot of people wouldn’t put peanut butter and wings together so I’m getting a happy response, a ‘Oh that’s kind of cool, let’s give it a try,’ which I’m all about. That’s why I did it.”
A booth away, Ben Tongue and Lisa Simons represented Chena’s Alaska Grill with a pomegranate Sriracha wing.
“We wanted to do something nobody else does,” Tongue said. “Everybody can do buffalo wings, can do teriyaki, can do a bourbon sauce. Our restaurant is known for being culinarily different. We tested out four different sauces we really wanted to try, and the pomegranate is the one that won out.”
Joe Fields is the owner of the food truck The Arctic Habanero. He was the only contestant to offer a breaded wing during the contest using his own rubs and seasonings.
“That’s essentially what I built this food truck to do, to have a platform and a place to blend, mix and make my own seasonings and dips,” Fields said. “You can do a naked wing or do a seasoned one or you can do a breading, and I chose to do a breading because it holds the moisture in and they don’t dry out. The breading gives something for the sauce to hold on to.”
It was Fields’ first time to participate, and since he operates his own food truck, there is a good chance he’ll be back next year.
“Any opportunity you have as a community to come together and showcase your wares or your goods is always an opportunity to grow,” Fields said. “Everyone has their own technique, and it’s interesting to see where that’s coming from, what they’re doing or not doing. As a food truck purveyor, you see a different venue and a different set of people almost every day. There’s always opportunities around.”
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.