A man stands huddled with a group of his friends in the middle of the crowded Bailey Auditorium with sweat pouring down his face. “I like spicy foods but this wing is evil incarnate, ” he says wiping tears from his eye with barbeque stained hands, to his girlfriend who’s chugging an MGD to quell the burning in her mouth. He is referring to the chicken wing called “The Bhut Jolokai, ” which is covered in hot sauce made with the Ghost Pepper, considered by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the hottest pepper known to man. Nicknamed “XXX” by its creators at Jake Melnick’s, The Bhut Jolokai is just one of the myriad of wings offered from the fifteen-plus vendors who attended the tenth annual Wing Fest held on February 22 in Chicago’s West Loop.
A decade after its initial inception, Wing Fest has blossomed from an idea to an all out extravaganza. “It started as a way to get potential customers into the bar when it was slow,” says Sergio of Mahoney’s Pub and Grille, who’s been on-board since the beginning. “None of us realized it would turn into this.” He can be found each year strutting unabashedly around the fest in half a chicken suit posing for pictures and scarring little kids. “It raises a lot of money for charity so I don’t feel so bad dressing up.”
XRT’s Lin Brehmer announces the wing-eating contest, and Sergio throws free t-shirts into the crowd. A tall twenty-something in a plastic fireman’s hat rushes by with cardboard plate full of Bhut Jolokai wings. Agony awaits him. (Reilly Nelson)