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Weekend chicken fest brings out local flavor
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The juicy details on how to make out-of-this-world wings from the chicken champion himself.

For the past three years, David Hirneisen has been crowned chicken champion of the chicken capital of the world.

On Saturday he will attempt to defend his title at the fourth annual Spring Chicken Festival.

Roughly 15 teams are slated to compete in the chicken cook-off on the downtown Gainesville quare where amateur and professional chicken chefs will battle for the shiny chicken trophy and a $500 grand prize. Festival coordinator Rick Foote said he expects about 1,500 people to attend the cook-off and nibble on more than 1,500 pounds of chicken, while a panel of judges tastes each poultry concoction to determine the winners.

Teams can compete in three categories - whole chicken, wings or special chicken dishes, such as chicken chili or chicken and dumplings. Prizes will be awarded for each category, as well as for an overall winner.

In 2005, Hirneisen said he entered the contest with co-workers and didn't think his wings could contend with commercial wings restaurants.

"We entered the first year and we didn't have any real expectations," Hirneisen said. "We knew (the recipe) was good, we just didn't know how good."

That year, Hirneisen's team took home first place in the wings category, as well as the grand prize.

"The second year I entered, I had no expectations of winning because there were some big name restaurants I was up against, like Buffalo's and Log Cabin BBQ," he said. "We were really kind of floored, it was awesome to win against these people."

Again he took home the trophy. The third year the grand prize glory was his once again, although Herneisen said Shane's Ribs were a close second.

With more teams entered into the chicken cook-off than ever, Team Hirneisen, which includes David Hirneisen's wife Holly, will have some stiff competition.

"Last year we beat Shane's and Buffalo's, but this year they're throwing Wild Wings at me supposedly," Hirneisen said. "It's kind of a David and Goliath story. I'm just a guy. I don't have a restaurant and these restaurants have a lot of locations around with recipes that are successful - but I'm beating them."

Although Hirneisen said he doesn't have plans to open a wings joint anytime soon, he will "definitely maybe" explore the possibility once he retires from his position with Hall County Resource Recovery.

So what's so great about Team Hirneisen's wings?

"They're just regular buffalo wings ... but everybody likes them. I haven't really found anybody who doesn't - they're a people's wing. Anybody can eat them. They're not too spicy and we use my wife's fried chicken breading recipe," he said.

"You know how some people dip their wings in blue cheese sauce? Well, with these wings you don't need any dipping sauce."

He refused to divulge his secret recipe, but said cooking unfrozen wings is a key element in the process.

While Hirneisen said he's going for the gold again this year, he isn't ruling out the chance that some average Joe like himself might turn out some stellar wings.

"They definitely have some new people who are targeting me," he said. "I've had people come up to me and say they're gunning for me."