A person had to really, really enjoy chicken wings to venture out to the blazing Kern County Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon.

Apparently, a lot of people really, really enjoy chicken wings.

The second annual Bakersfield Wing Festival suffered a little in terms of attendance, no doubt owing to the 106-degree day, but not much in enthusiasm. With 15 food vendors lining the inside perimeter of Building 2, serving up flavors ranging from honey to napalm, smiles and orange-stained paper towels were in abundance.

Two thousand people attended last year’s event. About 1,200 ignored the blistering hear to attend this year.

Sunday’s event had something for just about every palate in terms of heat, sweet, savory and tang, but chefs agreed that two things are vital to any recipe: tenderness and moistness.

“It can’t be tough,” said Ida Osathanugrah of Happy Wings, who was working from her mother Koie’s Thai-inspired recipe.” It’s got to be tender.”

Her next-door vendor, Reggie Harvey, a Bakersfield native who was serving them up for Pasadena-based The Lemon Bar, agreed.

“You need persistence and dedication if you want to get that succulent taste,” he said. “Flavor is important, but it’s got to be juicy.”

Jeremy Carver of Fuzion On was boasting that his “QT sauce” was top secret, and he had good reason to boast. It was good stuff.

It’s so secret, in fact, even he doesn’t know exactly how it’s prepared. The restaurant’s owner, Ken Chung, keeps that to himself.

“I know what’s in it because I order the ingredients,” he said. “But how much of each, I don’t know.”

Who knew chicken wings could involve so much intrigue?

The combatants and their offerings included The Lemon Bar, whose lemon pepper Cajun wings ranked high on this reporter’s list, as well as Hooters, which brought a mix of wings of varying heats; Angry Barnyard BBQ, with barbecue; Buffalo Wild Wings, assorted flavors; Fuzion On, with its QT sauce as well as hot and Thai; BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, assorted; Barrington’s Jamaican Kitchen, curry and jerk; Wing Stop, mixed; Fit and Grub, mixed; Happy Wings, lemon pepper and hot; Big Denweed’s Catering, smoked barbecue and hot; Rock N’ Wings, assorted; Golden West Casino, assorted; Happy Hour Tapas & Bar, honey mustard, hot and barbecue; and Catch 22, with barbecue chicken and classic hushpuppies.

The event, organized by NaTesha “T” Johnson and Kristopher Evans, benefited the Alzheimer’s Disease Association of Kern County and Grandma Whoople, a nonprofit anti-bullying campaign.

Johnson proudly noted that the event lined up eight sponsors, a considerable step up from last year’s total of one. 

In the eating contest, six contestants battled to gnash down 15 wings in five minutes, and the winner was Jeffery "Popeye" Gresham, who devoured all 15 wings.

Happy Hour Bar and Tapas, with "Hells Kitchen" veteran Matt Hearns at the helm, won "Best in Show" for its boneless, juicy wings.

•••

About two miles south of the fairgrounds, local Basques assembled at the Kern County Basque Club for the 80th annual Sheepman’s Picnic. The family friendly event included a massive lunch, a silent auction, a bread-baking contest and a traditional Catholic Mass.

The Basque Club, which occupies the old Rainbow Garden concert venue, was packed for the daylong picnic, which was moved inside because of the heat.

“The Basques are close knit; we live like everybody else — everywhere — but we love getting together and having a good time, singing and dancing,” said Martin Etchamendy, a 78-year-old poet and author who was born in the French Pyrenees.

“And we love to see the younger generation celebrate their heritage,” he said, surrounded by his inquisitive grandchildren. “They’re Basque and proud of their culture. “

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