His job as a research and development technician with Eastman Kodak took him to Columbus three years ago, but no matter how much barbecue Ron Wieszczyk eats, he hasn't lost his taste for Buffalo wings.
In fact, he eats them at least once a week and grows his own pepper plants on his patio. After all, as a Niagara Falls, N.Y., native, he grew up just 20 miles from the Anchor Bar, where the concept of deep frying chicken wings and adding hot sauce was invented 50 years ago this month.
So one might say Ron, 56, was born to be in the movie that searches for the world's best Buffalo wings. He is one of six judges New York-based independent filmmaker Matt Reynolds selected to star in "The Great Chicken Wing Hunt."
The movie won several film festival awards and now is available on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Xbox Video, Sony PlayStation and Vudu.
Billed as celebrating the wing's rise from a Western New York bar snack to one of America's most popular foods, the film documents the judges' journey of 2,627 miles, 72 stops and 270 types of wings. Beginning on Aug. 18, 2007, the Wing Hunters traveled from New York City and into upstate New York. Among the stops were Lake George, Watertown, Syracuse, Rochester, Canandaigua, Geneva, Ithaca, Elicotville and Niagara Falls. They also split up and took side trips to Quebec and Vermont. The hunt ended in Buffalo at a wing festival on Labor Day weekend.
After 16 days of travel and two days of deliberation, the judges declared a winner, which Ron has vowed not to disclose.
"You've got to watch the movie," he said with a smile.
Ron, however, did indicate the winner wasn't the creator, the Anchor Bar.
"One of the comments in the movie was that they did invent them," he said, "but they sure haven't perfected them."
One night in 2007, while living in Rochester, N.Y., Ron went to the bar at L&M Lanes to celebrate his son Andrew's 21st birthday. They ordered some wings as usual, but these wings weren't usual.
"They were out-of-this-world phenomenal," Ron said. "I went crazy about them."
So much so, the bar owner asked him to contact Matt, who was looking for folks to sign up for his movie and nominate wing joints.
"His email was so detailed and enthusiastic, we had to ask him to join us," Matt said. "We were even more psyched to include him once we met him. He was probably the only Wing Hunter that you would call a team player. He was calm and positive when the rest of the hunters were on the verge of mutiny. We literally could not have completed the mission without him."
Although he didn't get paid for his acting, Ron did get his expenses paid, so he had a free vacation. But he acknowledged the trip wasn't all pleasure.
"The movie comes off showing everyone getting along," he said. "It wasn't always like that. There were moments where things got pretty heated just because of differences of personality."
Nonetheless, in hindsight, he said, he had a good time.
"Being a little older, a little smarter, actually some of the people I didn't get along with at one point have become some of my best friends," he said.
Ron wouldn't estimate the number of wings he ate, but he did say, "I gained 12 pounds in two weeks."
And he never got sick of eating wings.
"That was a weird thing," he said. "The other judges actually had a revolt. One of the judges said, 'We're having wings for breakfast, we're having wings for lunch, we're having wings for dinner. I didn't sign on for this.' Me, I was like, 'This is great.' I was loving it."
It took six more years for the film to raise enough money to be released. Ron even sold some bottles of his hot sauce to donate to the project. But serendipity allowed the movie to coincide with the Buffalo wing's 50th anniversary.
Serendipity also allowed the judges to find the Wing Hunt's winner. Again, Ron was mum about the details.
"It's covered in the movie," he said with another smile.
In Columbus, Ron said he's still looking for the Chattahoochee
Valley's best place for wings. He has settled on Mr. Wing's for the variety and Hangar's for the traditional taste. But he welcomes suggestions.
Oh, and don't even get him started on boneless wings.
"Not even a wing," he scoffed.
Until he learns of other local options, he'll continue to favor his recipe.
Here are some of Ron's basic tips for making authentic Buffalo wings:
Ideally, the meat should be fresh, not frozen.
Deep fried, not breaded.
Peanut oil is best.
Properly cooked all the way through, but not overdone. Ron suggests baking them in the oven before frying them.
The sauce must have a base of butter (not margarine) and chili peppers for it to be a true Buffalo wing sauce.
The wings also should be separated into the drummettes and the flats, not big pieces. "Wings are supposed to be messy but not that messy," he said.
Don't sauce the wings right away, because the sauce will run right off. Let the wings rest until they're crispy before adding the sauce.
What makes the best wing sauce?
Heat from habanero peppers. The type of peppers Ron grows are from Panama and called Aji Chombo. "The key to my peppers is they have flavor," he said. "It's not just heat."
Hot sauce is pepper sauce. Wing sauce has melted butter -- and maybe some garlic and salt and black pepper for flavor -- to help the sauce stick to the wings.
"I like it so hot that I can't eat a dozen of them," he said. "I like the fire. I haven't found any place down here that has them like that. If I can get them like that, I'll order a dozen, eat six and take the other six home and eat them for breakfast."
But the heat shouldn't overwhelm the taste. "The way to counteract the heat is with sugar," he said. "I've never personally done it, because I've never made wing sauce that was too hot."
"You can cook the heat out of stuff," Ron said. "If you make a batch of chili someday, and you're like, 'Whoa! This is too hot!' Don't throw it out. Leave the lid off a little bit. Let it simmer on the stove. Your eyes might be watering in the house for a day or so, but by the end of the day, you'll be able to eat that. The heat will cook out."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter ONLINE ONLY