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The quest for the best wing Tasting across New York, expert's trip will end here

When Matt Reynolds was 9, he challenged a chef from his hometown of Lyons -- just east of Rochester -- to cook wings so hot that he wouldn't be able to eat 10 in a row. The chef failed.

When Reynolds temporarily became a vegetarian in college, he allowed himself only one indulgence -- a plate of wings once a year. Then every six months. Then once a month.

When he moved to central Europe, he took his passion abroad, throwing wing parties twice a year, complete with chicken shipped from New York State.

But Reynolds, a wing expert -- or obsessive, depending on whom you ask -- was still not satisfied. So he moved permanently back to New York and made wings his life.

Reynolds quit his job as a journalist for Reuters and began planning his big project -- a documentary about his trip across New York State to find the perfect wing. For two weeks in August, he will live in a tent, hit several towns a day, and eat nothing but wings.

"Wings keep cropping up in my life," he said. "I want to believe there are perfect things in this world."

He plans to start in New York City and end in Buffalo in time to attend the annual National Chicken Wing Festival during Labor Day weekend.

He's taking a crew of fellow wing hunters along with him, including professional eater Ben Beavers, who has eaten 93 wings in 15 minutes, and Enrico Kealoha, a Hawaiian chef who is studying medicine in Prague.

Wing hunter Ron Weiszcyk, a Buffalo native who now lives in Rochester, was "discovered" by Reynolds after he called him to say he had found the perfect wing at a bar called L & M Lanes in Rochester. Reynolds liked his passion, and invited him on the trip.

Weiszcyk explained his decision to take time off from work for the trip as a midlife crisis.

"I couldn't afford a sports car," he said.

He said he has been training. He goes out a few times a week to eat wings at different places, in order to refine his palette.

Even the founder of the National Chicken Wing Festival will weigh in. Drew Cerza, who claims to have lost 30 pounds on an "all wings" diet, will travel with the crew in Rochester and New York City.

The wing is integral to Buffalo's identity, Cerza said.

"People look at Buffalo as an underdog," he said. "You say Buffalo, people think Bills, snow and wings." Cerza said he's confident Buffalo will reign supreme in the competition.

Others aren't so sure.

"I think Buffalonians have become complacent when it comes to the wing," Reynolds said. "They don't try anything new."

But Ivano Toscani, general manager of the Anchor Bar, wouldn't hear of it.

"They [wings] were born here," he said. "They are the best."

e-mail: aerickson@buffnews.com

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