The search is on.
A man’s chicken wing legacy needs to be honored. His contribution needs acknowledging. The recognition would, ideally, include the re-discovery of the recipe for his long-lost “mambo sauce.”
Let the uncovering begin.
Somewhere out there is a relative, a friend or someone with a connection to the late John Young. He or she needs to step forward. The National Wingfest – and official recognition – awaits.
The former Buffalo restaurateur and chef is more than an asterisk in the rich annals of the chicken wing. He is a pioneer.
In the 1960s, Young – independent of the 1964 wing-creation of Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar – came up with a variation of the now-renowned delicacy.
Although Young claimed credit as the “true” creator of the chicken wing phenomenon, his is obviously not the version that the world subsequently came to know and love. But had fate taken a different turn, we might today be slathering our wings in mambo sauce – and Young would posthumously wear the crown of creation.
Although his conception of the chicken wing was not widely appreciated, it was an early, historically intriguing variation on a Buffalo standard.
Young said he started selling wings in 1963 and opened Wings and Things on the city’s East Side in 1964. He recalled the restaurant’s instant popularity in a 1996 interview with then-News food critic Janice Okun.
“The day we opened,” Young said, people “were lined up around the corner.”
Young first ate wings while growing up in South, where meals in the African-American community were commonly made of the “spare” parts of animals. A decade after moving to Buffalo as a teenager, he decided to go all-in with a wing-specializing restaurant.
In the traditional version “invented” at the Anchor Bar, the wing is cut in half, deep-fried, slathered in a hot-sauced concoction, and served with celery and blue cheese dressing.
Young breaded and fried the whole wing – a variation still served in some Southern restaurants. Instead of a hot sauce coating, he concocted a highly seasoned, tomato-based “mambo sauce.”
Young eventually retired from the business and died at age 64 in 1998. He was survived at the time by his wife, Christine, at least one sibling and eight grandchildren.
A search of recent voting and property records uncovered no one with a John Young connection. Someone must know someone (anyone with information please email me at the address below).
Awaiting word is Drew Cerza. His 2002 founding of the National Wingfest staked Buffalo’s claim to the snack food that transformed America, or at least its waistlines. The Labor Day weekend culinary orgy is a gastronomic ode to wings of all sauces, tastes and variations. Cerza wants to memorialize Young’s contribution with a posthumous induction into the Wingfest’s coveted Hall of Flame.
“There is no disputing that the Anchor Bar is the place of creation,” Cerza said. “However, through the years, John Young’s name comes up. We would like to recognize his contribution.”
It is time to give a man his due, to memorialize a culinary path not taken and perhaps, along the way, to uncover the lost recipe for “mambo sauce.”
John Young’s legacy is waiting.