Thursday night was opening night of the seventh-annual Food Network New York Wine and Food Festival, and it started with a bang. Eleven events across the city fed more than 4,500 people, and for those interested in walk-around tastings, there were two options: pizza or fried chicken. Those who chose fried chicken were amply rewarded, with more than 20 restaurants serving their finest variations at the Chicken Coupe in the stunning Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, presided over by none other than Whoopi Goldberg.
“When I was a kid, the one junk food my mom would let me eat was fried chicken,” Dale Talde (below), the chef/owner of Brooklyn’s Talde and Pork Slope, told us (He was serving a fried chicken and waffle sandwich with bacon, American cheese, and sriracha maple syrup). His secret to great chicken? “Always brine it in yogurt, almost like it’s tandoori-style,” he said. “It’s expensive, but it works.”
Jeff McInnis, who runs New York’s Root & Bone with fellow Top Chef alum Janine Booth and was serving sweet tea-brined lemonade fried drumsticks, was renowned for his fried chicken when he helmed the kitchen at Miami’s Yardbird. “One of the first things I sunk my teeth into as a kid was fried chicken, so it’s very comforting,” he told us. “I remember watching my grandparents make it.” As for his secret? “You need to start with a good bird,” he said. “If it’s not a happy chicken, it’ll affect the flavor.”
Whoopi Goldberg was on hand throughout the event, traveling from station to station sampling all the goods. “Not everybody can make fried chicken, but everybody in this room rocks!,” she told the crowd before announcing the runner-up (Umami Burger founder Adam Fleishman’s ChocoChicken) and the winner, Queens Comfort, who served Captain Crunch chicken fingers with sweet and spicy red chicken caramel sauce and mac and cheese. She told the crowd that since Planet Hollywood (which she was involved with) closed, she’d been unable to find Captain Crunch chicken like the one they served, and this was so close that it nearly brought a tear to her eye.
“It’s a little crazy, I never expected to win. I’m just here having fun!” Queens Comfort owner Donnie D’Allesio told us. “I’m happy, surprised, and humbled.”