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Chicken Festival dishes up a saucy, spicy spring spread
Annual downtown event includes parade, cook-off and lots of barbecued birds
Avita Community Partners walk Saturday morning through downtown Gainesville as they take part in the Chicken City Parade to kick off the annual Spring Chicken Festival downtown.

The crowd that gathered for the Spring Chicken Festival's premiere poultry parade Saturday morning didn't know what to expect.

The Jones family and their friend, Gus Kaufman, took a few guesses while sipping hot chocolate on the curb in front of Inman Perk in downtown Gainesville.

"It could be a chicken, walking," Gus, 11, mused, looking behind him at the top of Washington Street, where the parade would start at any moment.

Ken Jones, 42, and his sons Clayton and Patrick, 10 and 7, also kept glancing over their shoulders.

"It could be parade of chickens," Jones said.

The parade rolled into the square on classy cars, motorcycles, ATVs and even a garbage truck. While there weren't any real chickens, there were plenty of chicken hats donned by public officials, and a few creative floats.

Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and Hall County Recycling shaped their float into a giant chicken using white plastic grocery bags, red gas cans and bleach bottles. The children's chicken hats were cleverly cut from yellow milk jugs.

Gainesville High School cheerleaders concluded the parade, riding beneath a big red elephant and shouting in unison, "Go Gainesville, let's go, eat more chicken!"

Taking the cheerleaders' advice, families wasted no time getting through the festival gates in the Belk lot by the Georgia Mountains Center. A smoky haze, fragrant with the scent of barbecue, floated among the booths as festivalgoers held out white paper plates to sample an endless variety of chicken.

Though the festival, now in its seventh year, has expanded to include a race, a poultry-themed quilt show, along with music and kids activities, the cook-off competition remains the heart of the event.

Twenty teams submitting 47 entries competed in the wings, chicken and speciality categories. There's both a professional and backyard division, and winners overall.

The Gainesville Fire Department was defending its title as last year's people's choice with its "controlled burn" wings.

"They're not too hot; they're a mild temperature," Deputy Chief Jerome Yarbrough said. "This is the same sauce that we make at the fire house - secret recipe."

The controlled-burn wings were Ani Pierce's favorite.

"The spicy wings have this extra ‘twing.' They're not too spicy," the 42-year-old Gainesville resident said.

Her son, Christian, 14, was not as certain.

"It's a tie between the Ninja Pig chicken and the fire department," he said. "They're both really good."

Some teams departed from traditional barbecue flavors, like Gracie Jay's, a backyard family venture.

"We've never been really big on barbecue, at least not in the chicken area," Grace Whitaker said.

She and her family cooked up Thai chicken with zesty peanut sauce. Their recipe featured 15 ingredients, including cilantro, ginger, peanut butter, carrots and onions.

"You're mouth just explodes with flavor," Whitaker said.

The Best Buy team wanted to separate itself from the competition. In addition to more traditional offerings, it had chicken fried in waffle batter, with syrup.

"If we want to win, we have to do something different," Jordan Maloy, general manager of Best Buy in Gainesville, said.

Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner participated in the parade and issued the festival welcome.

"It's great to celebrate the poultry industry and Keep Hall Beautiful at the same time," Bruner said.

The festival, which raises up to $20,000, benefits Keep Hall Beautiful's tree replacement fund grant program as well as their environmental education efforts.

Keep Hall Beautiful's director, Cindy Reed, was pleased with turn out to the new parade and festival in general.

"The beautiful weather has helped," she said. "Last year, we had pouring down rain."

Ninja Pig BBQ, one of Christian Pierce's favorites, was deemed the grand champion. But his mother's pick did pretty well: the Gainesville Fire Department and its secret firehouse sauce got to keep their title as people's choice.

Yarbrough said that the sauce is important, but how the chicken is cooked also plays a big role in creating good barbecue.

"It's about the temperature you cook the wings in, then it's the sauce," Yarbrough said.

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