Ryan Hohman woke up on New Year’s Day this year with inspiration, not whiskey, coursing through his veins. While most of us were slamming Aleve and half-watching the Tournament of Roses parade, Hohman — a New York City web producer by trade — was plotting a Kobayashian eating challenge that many at the time predicted was impossible: to eat 2,011 chicken wings in the course of a year. That's 5.5 wings a day or around 40 a week if you're counting at home.
We caught up with the Ultimate Wingman to talk about his year of heartburn and finger stains. A major highlight will take place this weekend when he will travel to the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival to participate as a official wing taste tester. He will be keeping a sauce-stained journal for Food Republic, so check back next week for all the Red Hot details.
Why did you decide to dedicate a year to eating chicken wings—and not other food items like pizza, ice cream sandwiches or tacos?
I've loved tearing into chicken wings since a young age. Every time I see my Grandma Kate she tells me about a time when I was five years old and ate more than 20 wings in one sitting at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The idea to eat 2,011 wings came about when my buddy Tim and I were bouncing New Year's Resolutions off each other over text messages. One of his resolutions for me was to count every wing I ate this year. I thought it was funny and decided to do it.
How have you avoided dying during this journey?
You know what? Besides lots of antacids, I don't know. When I decided to do this, I told myself that I was going to exercise regularly and eat healthy when I wasn't eating wings. So far this year, I have only exercised eight times and have ate like crap. I've found it to be more of a mental challenge than it is physical. The Grim Reaper has friended me on Facebook several times this year, but I have been able to ignore him thanks to the overwhelming support from family and friends—who I like to refer to as my wingtourage. They've had my back for every leg of this meaty milestone and are constantly encouraging me to eat more wings. I eat for them.
Have you had any of the competitive eating folks help you out along the way?
I was introduced to Tim "Eater X" Janus, who is currently the third-ranked eater in the world. Last year he consumed more than seven pounds of boneless wings in 10 minutes! He’s a really nice guy and told me how to trains for competitions. It was a very encouraging chat. He wished me the best of luck and told me to keep having fun with it.
How often are you eating wings these days?
I eat wings 3-4 times a week, averaging 12-20 wings a sitting. Every Monday you can find me at Lansdowne Road in Midtown Manhattan for their 25-cent wing special, where I am usually good to throw back 18 wings. The weekends are where I do the most damage, though. I try to check out a new wing joint every Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes I'll go on what I like to call "wing-binges" where I eat wings every meal for days.
What are your favorite wings spots around the country?
I have found some of the best wing spots to be right here in NYC. Bonnie's Grill in Park Slope, Brooklyn and Green Rock Tap & Grill in Hoboken, New Jersey both make a classic Buffalo wing. Lansdowne Road in Midtown is right up there, too. Their mayonnaise-like blue cheese is special. The lava wings at Super Wings in Crown Heights are on the top of my list and the mild Buffalo wings at Fatheads in North Olmstead, Ohio got my attention when I was in that area for a wedding in June.
You are heading up to Buffalo to be a judge at the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival. How are you preparing?
I started preparing this past weekend by making wings at my apartment while Hurricane Irene passed through New York City. I'll be eating wings every day this week leading up to the festival. Every night, you'll find me reading up on Buffalo. I'm also getting my feathers trimmed, just in case I bump into Ms. Buffalo Wing at the festival.
What are you most looking forward to?
I'm super excited about being an official wing taste tester for the festival's live online broadcast. I have never been to Buffalo before, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the birthplace of chicken wings and getting to know its people. I can't wait to meet the festival's founder, Drew "The Wing King" Cerza, and the Kobe Bryant of hot dog eating, Joey Chestnut— who'll be participating in the chicken wing eating competition.
How many wings do you plan to eat?
I will eat wings until someone stops me or I reach a dangerous stage of wingcoma. From the second I step off the plane until I check out of the hotel, wings will be consumed.
What is the worst wing you've had all year?
In February, I had a bad batch of hot wings at Nice Guy Eddie's on Houston St. that left me glued to the toilet for 24 hours—no lie. Ugh. My stomach rumbles just thinking about it.
Where do you plan to eat your final wing?
I would love to eat my final wing on the 50-yard line of Cleveland Browns Stadium at halftime of the Browns-Ravens game on December 4. But if that doesn't happen, the Anchor Bar in Buffalo is a possibility. Whenever and wherever it happens, one thing is for sure — it's going to be a wingtastic time!
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