By Andrew Z. Galarneau
Justin Chambers is the head chef at Mawson Station, an Australian research site in Antarctica. His job is feeding a small crew of scientists and staff who spend their days studying things like penguins and cosmic rays.
The ice cap allows a single major resupply a year, by ship. As he prepares the daily meals for 16 to 30 people, depending on the season, Chambers cuts the wings off every chicken he cooks and stashes them in his freezer. The base has a tiny hydroponic garden, capable of producing “token amounts” of vegetables. As it so happens, one is celery.
Twice in the last year, he wielded deep-fryer, butter and cayenne pepper sauce to conjure up the answer to his cravings and thus has been able to serve Buffalo-style chicken wings at the end of the Earth to diners who are not particularly fond of spicy food.
“I’m not sure if I’ve converted anybody yet,” he said in an email, “but that only means there is more for me.”
It’s a sentiment any wing lover can understand.
According to the Anchor Bar, Thursday will mark a seminal moment in popular culture: the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo-style chicken wing, its first public appearance after the thunderbolt of genius struck Teressa Bellissimo, of sainted memory, in the kitchen at 1047 Main St. That’s one of the versions, anyway. What is beyond dispute is that the Bellissimos struck gold in the common soil of an Italian red sauce joint. Cut them up for easier eating, into the deep fryer, blue cheese dressing and antipasto celery, and half a century later, a snack and a city are synonymous.
In a town notorious for failures, the Buffalo-style chicken wing is our world champion. Its crispy-skinned, lip-tingling pleasures are Buffalo’s most effective ambassador around the globe. If you’re the sort of Buffalonian who wears your civic pride on your sleeve, who still winces when you hear the terms “wide right” or “skate in the crease,” then “Buffalo wings” are sweet soothing balm. It’s one thing about Buffalo that makes people wish they lived in Buffalo.
I complain about my job, but there are days when it feels touched with magic.
The other day as I was fretting about how to show the global spread of the Buffalo style chicken wing, I thought, "I wish I could let readers meet wing fans at the end of the earth." Then, "I wonder what kind of wings you can get in Antarctica."
So I googled Antarctica stations and came up with the Australian Antarctic command's press liason's email. Fired one off. Heard back a day later. A day after that, the Australians said they'd contacted their crew and found a guy there named Justin Chambers. The chef at Mawson Station, he fed 16-30 depending on the season, crew and scientists studying things like penguin mating and cosmic rays.
This guy was a New Zealander who'd gotten a taste for wings when he cooked for the Shania Twain Up! tour in 2004. He'd go on to serve wings as part of his rotating menu to American bands touring Europe, including acts like Smashing Pumpkins, Blondie, Goo Goo Dolls, Kanye West, Velvet Revolver, George Thorogood and Beyonce.
That's right: I found a wing chef in Antarctica who'd actually served wings to the Goo Goo Dolls.
I asked if he had photos of wings in Antarctica, for the story. I asked him to take a pic of himself with a sign. Then I got this email:
"Cold hard facts......... minus 15C blowing 42 knots and snow.
Not such a good day here for any shots outside......... and very dark.
Anyway I have put couple in here you may like. I cooked up a small batch."
So Chambers, who gets one major resupply a year, by ship, broke into his stash and cooked wings for only the third time in 12 months, so readers of the Buffalo News could have a glimpse. I didn't ask him to, thinking of how precious the wings are, how he only gets them by saving wings off whole chickens for months at a time. But he did.
So the least I could do is show you that photo again.
You think you're tired of the ice and snow? This guy has been there for a year. (It cleared up the next day, enough for him to take the photo at the top.)
My (fur-lined, earflapped) hat is off to you, Justin Chambers.
(Photos: Justin Chambers)