National Buffalo Wing Festival adds spice to Labor Day weekend

Miki Sudo, left, and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas.
Miki Sudo, left, and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas. Jennifer McDermott/The Day Buy Photo

Three slim women ate almost 500 chicken wings in 12 minutes and dominated the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sunday.

Miki Sudo took the title by eating 178 wings, beating second-place finisher Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco by 20 wings. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas finished in third with 141 wings.

The International Federation of Competitive Eating sanctioned contest was the main event on the second day of the National Buffalo Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo. Every year thousands of people flock to Buffalo - where the Buffalo wing was invented nearly 50 years ago - to sample wings from dozens of restaurants and celebrate all things wing.

Native Buffalonian Drew Cerza created the festival, which is now in its 12th year. This year's event drew nearly 80,000 people from all 50 states and six continents. Participating restaurants included Anchor Bar, the birthplace of Buffalo wings, and Real Sports Bar & Grille, of Toronto, the festival's first international competitor.

Many of the attendees gathered around the stage Sunday afternoon for the Chicken Wing Eating Championship, where Joey "Jaws" Chestnut was expected to try to defend his title against Thomas. Chestnut did not show up and later tweeted that he had a sore throat and fever.

Sudo, Lesco and Thomas polished off tray after tray of wings, as some of the eight men they were up against struggled to get past their first. Their mouths, cheeks, hands and clothes were soon covered in orange wing sauce.

The three women combined weighed less than one of their competitors, Eric "Badlands" Booker. Booker competed next to Sudo, who he said was "just moving" as he tried to "keep pace."

Sudo entered her first eating contest as an amateur a year ago and turned pro in April. She said her strategy is to "go as fast as you can and don't stop even if you're tired or discouraged."

"I'm excited to see women do well in competition," she said. "We're severely outnumbered."

Thomas said that she struggled with her first tray of wings because they were dry.

Meanwhile, attendees and participating restaurants competed in other festival contests. Paul Skora, of Wallingford, plucked chicken wings from a baby pool filled with blue cheese dressing using only his mouth in the Blue Cheese Bowl. He was beaten by Sarah Parkington, of Chicago, who pulled out more than half of the wings - 28 of them - in three minutes. Parkington said her parents met at Anchor Bar.

Dripping with blue cheese after the Blue Cheese Bowl, Skora said he wanted to show his wife what Buffalo was all about since he grew up in the city.

Connecticut also was represented among the festival vendors over at the Sliders Grill & Bar booth. The restaurant, which has five locations in Connecticut, made its first trip to the festival this year, and owner Fred Marcantonio said he wanted to see how his award-winning wings stacked up against the New York establishments. Sliders took third place in the traditional medium category.

"If you look at all the vendors out here, it's an honor to place in the top three," Marcantonio said. "We'll be back next year."

Several vendors said they brought enough ingredients to serve 15,000 to 20,000 wings over the two days, and that the key to a good wing is fresh - never frozen - chicken. Sean Tierney, the "chief wing officer" of Sean's booYah! Wing Sauces in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., said he uses only premium ingredients and makes his sauces by hand.

Festival-goers seemed pleased with the results.

Max Belvedere was sweating as he recovered from an encounter with the Scary Larry hot wing from Legend Larry's, of Sheboygan, Wisc. Belvedere, of Buffalo, said the spice did not hit him right away, rather it snuck up on him after a few minutes. The restaurant won first place in the traditional hot category.

"I think I burned my taste buds off," added his friend, Mike Pearce, of Cheektowaga, N.Y.

Sudo said the entire weekend was amazing.

"This is a fantastic event," she said.

Paul Skora, of Wallingford, center, competes against Sarah Parkington, of Chicago, right, and Mike Wagner, of Cleveland, left, in the Blue Cheese Bowl on Aug. 31 at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, N.Y.
Paul Skora, of Wallingford, center, competes against Sarah Parkington, of Chicago, right, and Mike Wagner, of Cleveland, left, in the Blue Cheese Bowl on Aug. 31 at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, N.Y. Jennifer McDermott/The Day Buy Photo
The men compete in the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship Sunday at the National Buffalo Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo, N.Y.
The men compete in the U.S. Chicken Wing Eating Championship Sunday at the National Buffalo Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo, N.Y. Jennifer McDermott/The Day Buy Photo
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