Austin Chicken Wing Festival founder promises more wings, more fun

Charles Liu

The Austin Chicken Wing Festival returns for its second year after selling out fast in 2017. This time, the festival will ramp up with a larger venue, The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, and more participating restaurants.

This year’s festival will take place on Sunday, May 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Currently, the event’s VIP tickets ($70), which allow one hour early entry to the festival, are sold out, but general audience tickets ($38) that allow unlimited tastings are still available. Participating restaurants will take part in people’s and judge’s choice competitions with their best wings or their best wing-inspired food.

Gavin Booth, a food marketer and one of the festival’s founders, spoke with The Daily Texan about his motivations behind starting the festival and what attendees can expect from this year’s iteration.

Daily Texan: Gavin, why hold a festival for chicken wings? Who collaborated with you to start it, and did anything about the first festival surprise you?

Gavin Booth: Me and my two partners (lawyers Dustin Williams, a UT alumnus, and Scott Shepard) created the Chicken Wing Festival last year because there’s really nothing better than, when you’re barbecuing or going to a cool sports bar, getting chicken wings. We thought it would do well, but we didn’t know how much the Austin community really loves chicken wings. The people are die hard chicken wing fans … which did shock me. Our first venue was the Scoot Inn, a famous music venue, and the festival sold out so quickly we didn’t actually have room for music.

DT: What did you learn from last year’s festival besides the need for a bigger venue? What can we look forward to this year?

GB: (Last year, we) kind of let restaurants get creative and hinted that they should stick to their best wing and best sauce to be more efficient … but we had two restaurants with pretty long lines because they did five different wing sauces and then made those wings to order for every customer. This year, we are requiring every restaurant to do only one wing … that’s their absolute best wing.

DT: How do you decide which restaurants and food trucks to invite to participate in the festival? Do you sample all of them?

GB: (My partners and I) definitely try to, even way before we reach out to them. We really try to have the best restaurants. And me being in food media, I’m at restaurants all the time, so I know who puts out good stuff.

DT: What standards did you have to decide which restaurants would be included?

GB: If it’s a major (sports bar) chain that clearly just buys frozen wings and tosses on a generic sauce that they bought from a major corporation, then we aren’t going to have those sports bars in. We do have sports bars in the festival, but they really care about their wings and their sauces and the quality of the chicken they buy. Quality food is what I care about.

DT: Do you have any tips and tricks to avoid becoming a crying, snotty mess while eating hot wings?

GB: I always like to have a drink in hand and be able to dip it in ranch or blue cheese, ideally, for the super spicy (wings). Speaking of that, one other really cool thing (we’re going to have again this year) is a super spicy wing eating competition, where ten to twelve fans in the audience come onstage, and it’s about the fastest to eat 10 or 12 super spicy wings. It was super crazy last year. Everyone stopped what they were doing, surrounded the stage and were cheering and going crazy. Those people definitely need milk after.

DT: Have you decided which wing will be used in the competition?

GB: It’s going to be a custom creation just for the fest because it’s going to be really hot. It’s going to be created by Tso Chinese Delivery. Right now we are talking to a few different potential hot sauce sponsors, so it will probably be a collaboration between (Tso) and one of the crazy hot sauce sponsors to make them extra, extra hot.