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Buffalo Wing Fest marks decade of dietary decadence Kickoff looks ahead to Labor Day weekend

Event organizers hope tens of thousands of people will chicken out on Labor Day weekend.

Think hot, medium and mild.

The 10th annual National Buffalo Wing Festival will be held Sept. 3 and 4 at Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo.

On Wednesday, dozens of people gathered in City Hall to show their support for the event -- and to claim their share of free wings that were being served up at a kickoff.

Anyone who doubts the festival's popularity should ponder this fact: Since the event began a decade ago, 2.9 million wings have been served. That's more than 200 tons of wings, and festival founder Drew Cerza joked that he's not viewed as a friend of the nation's chicken population.

"We've ordered 50 tons of chicken wings this year," Cerza told the crowd that gathered for the kickoff ceremony.

This year's festival will feature an appearance by Duff Goldman, the Food Network's "Ace of Cakes," and comedian Mark DeCarlo, who hosts the Travel Channel's "Taste of America."

Joey Chestnut, known as the "No. 1 eater in the world," will also be on hand to participate in the Chicken Wing Eating Championship. Sonya Thomas, the reigning champion, will try to defend her title against Chestnut and other professional eaters.

Cerza waxed nostalgic as he reflected on the decade-old event. He recalled years when blue cheese failed to arrive, fryers broke down and severe wind and rain caused messy conditions.

Last year's festival attracted about 70,000 people, Cerza said, including people from all 50 states and 36 countries.

"What the festival has done for the city is create some opportunities for people to come from out of town, come for the food they love -- and that's chicken wings -- but also check out Buffalo, New York, and see what a great city we have," he said.

The director of the Buffalo Ambassador Program at Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau agreed that the festival helps to promote the region. Ambassadors will attend the event in hopes of encouraging visitors to stay in the region longer or make return trips.

"It's all about tourism, and it's all about uncovering this great asset," said Cindy Sterner-Kincaide, referring to the Buffalo Niagara region.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown participated in kickoff ceremonies.

Admission is $5 per day. Children under 8 will be admitted free. The festival benefits the Alzheimer's Association of WNY, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Meals on Wheels of Western New York.

For event listings, hours and other information, visit buffalowing.com.

email: bmeyer@buffnews.com