Wood v Food: Red hot chilli fight
Things gets spicy for our man as he braves hot wings challenge at the Hotplate Noshery.
Following last week’s humiliation at the hands of a mountain of meat, I decided to shun size and opt for spice in bid to level the scoreboard.
The venue for what I hoped would be my first victory was Belfast’s Hotplate Noshery and their notorious hot wings.
In the aftermath of my abject failure in the first round of Wood v Food, colleagues had spent the intervening week formulating cunning plans that would see me through the Hotplate’s challenge.
Some of their strategies were admirably sensible, while others would make Baldrick blush. But I’m naming no names.
The Hotplate Noshery is tucked away above Cosgroves Bar at the junction of bustling Castle Street and King Street in the city centre.
It specialises in all the usual fare of an American-style hot plate restaurant with burgers of all sizes, both beef and Southern Fried chicken, along with less-than-lethal versions of their chicken wings.
With a photographer barely able to conceal his glee at the prospect of seeing a reporter in quite a lot of pain, I arrived at the Hotplate in the downtime between lunch and dinner service.
The upstairs restaurant is flooded with light from the bar’s large Victorian windows amplified by the white walls and furniture, almost hospital-esque, a fitting setting for what was about to come.
I was introduced to Sean, the chef, who refused to divulge the secret recipe of the wings sauce bar that it contained Ghost chillies, which for a while held the Guinness World Record for being the hottest variety of pepper.
Sean worryingly added that he wouldn’t attempt the challenge in a month of Sundays.
He then sent an Arctic chill down my thin, cowardly backbone as he explained the strict rules of the hot wings challenge.
There are just four chicken wings. Upon hearing this a cold sweat washed over my forehead and nearly swept away my spectacles.
I thought: “There must be only four for a reason and it can’t be good”.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? One Direction’s album “Four”? Four is a number to be wary of.
You have to eat each wing without the aid of a knife, fork or napkins and there’s a total ban on any liquids for the duration of the challenge.
For further cruelty the Hotplate demand that after completing each wing you have to wait a full minute before moving on to the next.
This allows the chemicals in the chilli to build up to their full mouth scorching potential and give you serious pause for thought before attempting another.
Should you manage to get to the end you’re obliged to wait a minute and a half before taking a drink.
If you come out the other side intact you’ll get the meal free, if not you’ll have to cough up £5 and do the walk of shame downstairs and past the patrons at the bar.
The pre-challenge tension was further ramped up when Sean asked me to sign a waiver to say I was doing this at my own risk and to get around pesky laws like the Chemical Weapons Convention.
As he went off to prepare the doomsday dish I removed my jacket and rolled up my shirt sleeves but stopped short of writing my blood type on my forearm for the paramedics.
Soon enough Sean reappeared, carrying the dreaded wings in a two-handled steel balti dish and set them down before me.
Inside were four bulbous lumps swimming in a porridge-thick reddish brown sauce.
As I held the bowl close to my face for a few tragic-last-moments-style pictures, the fumes began to sear the inside of my nostrils and I swear I could feel freckles running down my cheeks.
Sean told me I could start at my own leisure and with the butterflies in the stomach apprehension of a first time bungee jumper I plunged my hand into the cauldron.
I’ve seen smaller wings at Aldergrove.
The farmer that supplies the Hotplate must put his chickens through an intense course of circuit training before wrestling them into the slaughterhouse van.
Plotting my plan of attack beforehand, I decided I had to give the sauce as little time as possible to get to work on me before the mandatory minute-long wait at the end of each wing.
I stripped the meat off the bone corn-cob fashion, swallowing each mouthful without chewing, rotating it and repeating the action.
The first wing was over and done with in less than a minute and before the bone hit the bottom of the balti dish the sauce was making its presence felt.
Then came the wait. It started of with an aggressive tingling in my cheeks which quickly grew into a fierce white heat all around my mouth.
My tongue was next and it soon felt like a careless welder had left his lit torch lying on it.
For further torture my speed tactic had also left my hands and face smeared with the napalm-like sauce which attacked every point of weakness, causing fingernails and shaving cuts to flare up like carpet burns.
I clenched my fists and reasoned, in my fevered state, that if I could stand the pain at its height I would be able to soldier through to the end.
The sauce was now in full voice and the minute dragged its feet for what seemed like a Bank Holiday weekend.
Then the cue came for the second wing but by now it felt like the entire inside of my mouth had a severe case of sunburn.
I closed my eyes, thought of glory, and forced it down. The toe-curling minute began again.
By now the area around my mouth was twitching like it was plugged into the mains and pins and needles were shooting up the outside of my hands.
I can only assume the chemicals had started playing with my nervous system as this minute seemed to pass much more quickly than the first.
With my first victory in sight I battled through the third wing and sat through the masochistic minute again.
This was it, I was about to conquer my first challenge. Just one more wing.
The sense of elation dowsed the blast furnace raging in my mouth and I raced through the fourth and final wing.
In what seemed like a ploy to get me to tap out, a cold bottle of milk was placed on the table opposite.
To be honest, I would have sold my mother to Somalian pirates to get my hands on the dew drop covered jug but resolved to wait out the 90 seconds.
As soon as the time was up I tore into the milk with the wide-eyed frenzy of a man driven half-mad by chillies.
As the brain freeze from the milk crept across my forehead and the wings danced their volcanic samba in my gut, all I could think of was: Wood 1 Food 1.
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