(NEXSTAR) – You may not know Drew Cerza, but he’s quite possibly the nation’s foremost Buffalo wing expert.
In 2002, Cerza – also known as the “Wing King” – founded the annual Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York, after growing tired of the lack of ceremony and fanfare surrounding the city’s beloved dish. .
“They call them Buffalo wings all over the country, and we didn’t even celebrate it, so I decided to go ahead and do it,” said Cerza, who is currently preparing for the 20th Buffalo Wing Festival in early September.
The idea, Cerza said, came from the 2001 action/animated film “Osmosis Jones,” which featured a character (played by Bill Murray) who dreams of attending a wings festival of buffalo chicken. But when the film was released, there was no such festival in Buffalo, a Buffalo News reporter lamented.
Cerza read the Buffalo News article and took it upon himself to right that wrong, renting a local field and ordering a hundred turkey fryers for the inaugural 2002 event.
Over 40,000 people ended up attending.
Today, the annual Buffalo Wing Festival is held at Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, and attracts dozens of vendors from across the country. Participants are treated to performances, competitions and some of the best wings in the country. But the one thing they might have trouble finding, according to Cerza, is ranch sauce.
“If you’re in Buffalo, don’t insult us,” Cerza told Nexstar. “Get a blue cheese dressing.”
Cerza himself has said he prefers to eat his Buffalo wings as is, without blue cheese or ranch, but he acknowledges that much of the country prefers ranch — just as GrubHub determined in a 2018 survey. To that end, the festival organizers tried to be “good hosts” and offer a ranch for the event a few years ago, but it didn’t go so well.
“We brought it in because a lot of people come from out of town, so we tried to be good citizens and take care of our customers,” Cerza recalls. “But a radio station…they spearheaded a local uprising. We were going to call in the national guard, at some point,” he joked.
Buffalo wing “purists” like Cerza might want to try them without blue cheese anyway, as that’s the best way to judge the flavors the chef intended, according to the Wing King himself.
“I am a no-shady. I don’t believe in dipping your wings in blue cheese,” Cerza said. “It’s like walking into a high end steakhouse and putting A1 on your steak. I want to taste the sauce. The sauce is the boss.
Take-out? If you attend the annual Buffalo Wing Festival in early September, do as the Buffalo people do and at least try do without ranch dressing dressings.
“We think it’s sometimes a misdemeanor,” joked Cerza.