Q + A with the lucky mother cluckers who judge the annual 86'd Fried Chicken Battle

Posted by Christine Vu, November 28, 2016
Connie Tsang Fried Chix

Photo by Connie Tsang

Every year for the past 3 years, host Ivy Knight rounds up the best of the best for an all out Fried Chicken Battle. This year, Sanagan's Meatlocker is giving 10 whole birds to each chef to break down, fry and serve in their own style. They can even purchase up to 10 more birds to avoid shortages. The chefs come from notable joints known for their take on fried chicken but for the competition, anything goes when over 1,000 pieces of chicken are given out. This year we have Gushi, Kanpai Snack Bar, P.G. Clucks, Guu Izakaya, and The Dirty Bird. The chickens are from King Capon Farms, a family run farm in Sharon, ON. They're barn raised, vegetable grain fed birds without any added hormones or antibiotics inoculation. They're also air-chilled which makes for a meatier bird which is good because the only thing that's more legendary than the chicken is the hungry crowd that it draws on this one special night.

In anticipation of the 4th annual 86'd Fried Chicken Battle, we talked to VICE's Shawn Phelan and Patrick McGuire as well as Peter Sanagan, the 3 OG Judges that sit down every year and take on the tough task of deciding between 5 dishes and declaring which is the winner winner of chicken dinners.

What is your judging rubric based on?
Peter Sanagan: Crispiness of exterior, juiciness of meat (even breast - very important to be able to make breast meat moist).

Shawn Phelan: It’s a combination of a bunch of factors. Obviously you’re going to want crispy and/or crunchy skin. Nobody wants flabby skin. Moist meat is crucial too, as is seasoning - fried chicken should be a bit salty. It drives me nuts when people don’t season the chicken properly. It’s like, you fried all this chicken for what exactly? Why did these birds have to die for this? Get the fuck out of here with your underseasoning.

Patrick McGuire: Yeah get the fuck out of here! No, I don't know, it's obviously all of those things Shawn said. We also look at white meat vs dark meat; apparently liking white meat is somewhat controversial, but I'm mainly in that camp. I enjoy it all though. I'm a dual citizen of White Meat and Dark Meat land. You also end up comparing the entrants to KFC or Popeyes pretty often. Like, is this better than KFC and Popeyes? What's better, KFC or Popeyes? Everyone knows the answer to that last one.

Fried Chicken

How do you cleanse your pallet between the different contenders?
PS: Water and Beer. Mainly water.

SP: Beer! Fried chicken and beer are best friends.

PM: Meditation.

How much chicken do you consume during the judging process?
SP: 6 competitors, so yeah at least 6 pieces. If I really don’t like one, I won’t finish it. Conversely, if I love something a lot, I’ll try to snag a few more pieces. A few years ago when Bar Isabel won, I ate like 4 pieces of Brando’s chicken, then went back to the restaurant a week later and ate it again. I could go for some right now.
Let’s just say I eat a lot of chicken during the competition. I’m sweating fried bird at the end there.

PM: This time we should weigh the judges' chicken platters then we can circle back and edit this article.

Does eating that much fried chicken phase you from eating fried chicken for a while?
PS: I don't eat a lot of fried chicken, as it's really not that good for you. So when I do, I gorge. Like cocktails. I get blind drunk when the Negroni truck gets in my way. Thank god Ivy hasn't asked me to judge a Negroni competition.

SP: The next day, there is no way I’m going to eat fried chicken, or much of anything really, but other than that, nah, I’m good. I will eat fried chicken any time. It is Perfect Food.

PM: Honestly, no.

What are some past competitors that still stand out in your memory? Will you go into this competition looking to top that or do you go in with a fresh perspective on poultry?
SP: I would love someone to top the previous winners this year. I want it to be like Requiem for a Dream where I take a bite and my pupils dilate and I get to a level of Fried Chicken Nirvana that I’ve never achieved before. I want to live all of my fried chicken dreams in a single moment.

PM: No one has ever entered anything that sucks, we're so lucky in Toronto to be around so many fried chicken impresarios. That's why this is a historically fantastic event.

What have you learned after years of judging the 86'd Fried Chicken Competition?
PS: People go fucking nuts for free fried chicken. I've given out free sausages on a patio at the height of summer and a fraction of the amount of people show up to that event.

SP: People LOVE fried chicken...the crowd at the Drake, they’re animals. Watching them tear into the spread of chicken, it’s like David Attenborough should be narrating the carnage.
There’s a reason that every single culture around the world has a variation on fried chicken. Fried chicken is a universal truth. I love fried chicken more than ever. Judging this competition is for real one of the highlights of my year.

PM: Society needs more fried chicken, absolutely. That's what this event is really all about. 2016 needs more fried chicken competitions.

The Annual 86'd Fried Chicken Battle takes place NOV. 28 @ 7PM at the Drake Hotel!

Posted in: Food + Drink

Tags: 86d  Ivy Knight