The wing's the thing at Wingfest
File photo by Ralph Stewart
Since he opened the original Sharky's Cantina in 2005 in Oak Bluffs, J.B. Blau has proven himself dedicated to two things — providing a great socializing atmosphere with an emphasis on fun, and giving back to the community. This Saturday, the owner of the two popular Island Mexican restaurants will demonstrate these dual dedications by hosting the second annual Wingfest at Edgartown Sharky's.
As was the case last year at the inaugural festival, all the proceeds from the amateur chicken wing-making contest will benefit the Martha's Vineyard Boys and Girls Club.
Mr. Blau had been marinating the idea for the festival for a while before he approached Boys and Girls Club executive director Pete Lambos about it last fall. He was inspired by the popularity of Sharky's menu of six different types of chicken wings, which he introduced three years ago. "When you have a wing menu everybody who comes in has their own ideas," Mr. Blau said. "They tell you about their recipe. It's like everybody's an at-home Iron Chef when it comes to wings. I decided, let's put them to the test and see what they've got." Sharky's wings, created by professional chef Alex Nagi, were voted Best of Martha's Vineyard by Martha's Vineyard Magazine last year.
The contestants will supply the sauces and Sharky's will roast, then fry, thousands of their own wings and toss them with the competitor's sauces before bringing them out to the respective booths. The wings will be judged by the crowd.
Last year's winners, the Edgartown Fire Department, set up an elaborate booth designed to look like a fire station complete with a flashing light. Mr. Blau notes that the extra effort may have helped them secure first prize, although he stresses that their recipe was very good. This year Mr. Blau has added a prize for best booth, so that the sauces will be judged solely on their merits.
There will also be a wing-eating contest, which Steve Jordan won last year. Mr. Jordan also took the top prize for spiciest wings last year. Coors Light, one of the sponsors, will provide giveaways, including finger-wiping towels, primarily used for golfers, for the first 250 attendees. There will also be a door prize of a Tom Brady autographed football. Big Sky Tents, MVY Radio, and Island Food Products are also donating towards the effort.
Popular local cover band Money Shot will play, along with a band made up of members of the Grateful Dread. The bands will be set up in the new large room, which was added on to Sharky's this past summer. Last year's contest attracted about 250 people and this year, with the extra space and more awareness of the event, Mr. Blau and Mr. Lambos hope to host up to 500 people and raise at least $10,000.
Although last year's contestants included a few Island businesses, this year the entrants will be restricted to municipal agencies and nonprofits. Of his decision to keep the contest strictly for amateurs, unlike MVY's annual Big Chili Contest, Mr. Blau notes, "It isn't really about finding the best wing sauce. It's just a fun excuse to get together, eat 5,000 wings, and raise a bunch of money for a good cause."
Mr. Blau was quite impressed with the efforts of last year's entrants, which ranged from traditional Buffalo style hot wings to Asian and Caribbean influenced styles. He notes that the winning recipe will be temporarily added to his two restaurant's wing menus after the contest.
Mr. Lambos commends Mr. Blau for his philanthropic efforts. Sharky's Dine to Donate Tuesdays have helped dozens of local organizations raise money through donations of food sale proceeds. Mr. Lambos notes that Mr. Blau's idea of involving the town agencies was intended to serve two purposes. "We wanted to make it a more community minded event," he says. "Plus, the participants will help promote the event. It's to their advantage to sell tickets and stack the crowd with constituents."
Of the competitors are the fire departments of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, a combination of Chilmark and Aquinnah, as will the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police departments, the Edgartown Town Hall, and the Tisbury School. The Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders will be the only non-municipal contenders.
Mr. Lambos notes that the event is a very welcome addition to the Boys and Girls Club's fundraising efforts. "All of our events are at the apex for what they can raise," he says. "Your expenses go up and up and the fundraisers themselves don't bring in more. These are tough times." He emphasizes that the club, which provides a large number of programs and services to Island youth of all ages, is not subsidized at all by the state, and that the $20 yearly membership fee doesn't do much towards defraying the about $1,200 per child operating costs of the organization.
Mr. Blau hopes that Wingfest will become a successful fall fixture. He notes of the timing, "There are really no big activities in November. It's a quiet month." He says of his commitment to help support local nonprofits, "If you're a year-round business it's your responsibility to give back to the people who are supporting you. We don't think of it as doing something nice. We think of it as doing what we have to do."
Mr. Blau points out an added incentive to attend the Wingfest. Aside from helping to support a local nonprofit and having the opportunity to participate in a fun fall diversion, he notes jokingly, "If you want to get on the good side of some police officers, this is the event to be at."
Wingfest, Saturday, Nov. 13, 12 noon–3 pm, Sharky's Cantina, Edgartown. $25; $20 in advance. 508-627-6565.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.