A Monday Night In Buffalo
By: Chef Joe George
When I stepped out of the car my foot went directly into an ankle-deep puddle of slush; a cross between rain and melting snow pelted my face. It was 9:15 on a cold November evening in Buffalo. I'm not sure why we chose this particular bar to stop into, probably for beer, sure, but also to see if a friend of ours was working that night. We went in through the nondescript door off the parking lot in the back, if you weren't familiar with it there was no way of telling it was an entrance--there was no sign or marking of any sort.Going in and stepping down the few steps, I was immediately hit by warmth, a very familiar food smell and the combination of blaring televisions with football games and the jukebox, all at once. The food smell, I realized soon enough, was that of chicken wings, plates and plates of them. Overly made-up waitresses were walking by with platters of them and veteran wing-eaters were sticking drumsticks in their mouths up to their fingertips while making chewing-sucking sort of expressions and pulling the bones out clean. The place was packed, for a minute I just stood there wondering if I weren't in a bar of my youth--I didn't know that places like this still existed, let alone thrived. I noticed, somewhat uncomfortably, that a few people were staring at me and remembered that I was wearing a beret, not the requisite baseball cap. It was Monday night in Buffalo.
Growing up in Buffalo chicken wings never seemed all that special; you could order them anywhere and I'm sure you would never have found their recipe in any chef-authored cookbook or trendy food magazine. Years later, as I began working as a cook, they were on every menu. It wasn't until I left Buffalo, in the early 80's, that I realized they were unique to this area. It was also at this time that I first heard them referred to as Buffalo Wings. I was working in a French restaurant in New Orleans at the time and the sous-chef asked me to make the staff some "real" Buffalo Wings. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun or Creole descendants and loved the spiciness of the sauce. "Take some to the chef, he's in his office", suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, hands shaking, I walked into the office and set down a plate of steaming wings complete with celery, carrot sticks and blue cheese; I had never even really talked to the chef let alone fed him. "Qu'est-ce c'est?" He inquired. The sous-chef told him, in his, native French, that I was from Buffalo and that these were our delicacy. He also told him that the wings were trés piquant. After the chef asked me if I had ever been to Niagara Falls, he picked up a drumstick and bit in. After about 10 seconds he pushed the plate away and, in what seemed like desperation, chugged the rest of the glass of chardonnay that was in front of him. Panting, he questioned in English (he rarely spoke English) "Shit, why so *** " hot". Hey, I thought, he was warned that they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.
To make traditional wings is as simple as a recipe can get, yet like most regional foods there is much discrepancy involved -- the ingredients in the sauce are rarely agreed upon. When consulting with my good friend and fellow cook, Steve, whom is said to be one of the best wing-cooks in Buffalo, I asked him what went into his wing sauce. "Frank's and butter, nothing more and nothing less", he replied. I concur. It has to be real Frank's Hot Sauce and real whole butter to be authentic.
Many thanks to Chef Joe George for this article.