By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
I am pensive as I pull the succulent meat off of my chicken wings after a small catering function.
I am bound and determined to make this summer an epic season. After last year, many of us are simply burnt out; defeated in many ways. In an industry that was decimated by the pandemic, hospitality leaders and managers are fighting hard to regain at least some ground in the battle against the government shutdowns.
And then this happens.
First, we started with a threat to our crab meat supply, and that is indeed very real, my good people. Crabs are being purchased fresh off the dock at a whopping $400 per bushel.
Even wholesale jumbo lump is expected to hit upwards of $40 per pound. In the industry, we are getting to the point that items that use crab may have to come off our menus for a spell, unless we can convince our guests to spend upwards of thirty dollars for a crab cake sandwich.
And last week it was announced that chicken wings are coming into short supply. Excuse me? Chicken wing and crab shortages? At the onset of what will probably be the busiest tourist season in 20 years on the island? Will this madness ever end?
Someone has got to be joking. It is an understatement to say that restaurants and hotels have had a hard time over the past 14 months.
It would also be an understatement to claim that so many of us are ready to throw our hands up and run away to Mexico to live out our years in an obscure village somewhere in the mountainside. Wait, did I just write that? I really need to work on my inner-monologue.
When I moved my daughters to Boston in February, it truly saddened me to see how many restaurants had shuttered their windows for good, never to reopen.
They were devastated up there, but those politics shall be saved for another day. But I could tell that it has been even more of a bitter fight up north than it was down here, and rest assured, none of us had fun down here during this mess. Alas, I go off the point. Back to the task at hand.
Two of the most important, or at least most popular products in Ocean City are now scarce and at a premium. This is a death knell to anyone who relies solely on these products and while I am sure that such operators will be creative as we all had to be last year, it will definitely leave another indelible mark on our collective souls as we work through this newest of crises.
Sometimes I wonder how this will all end. With the season starting a bit earlier this year due to what can only be recognized as COVID-Fatigue, we are seeing an influx of tourism which is a staggering indication of Summer 2021.
And have I mentioned the labor crisis? Oh, I haven’t? At present, it is impossible to find enough staff for local restaurants and hotels. In fact, one hotel group has been bringing people up from Texas in an effort to at the very least create a skeleton crew to pull off the impossible.
Add to this the mind-numbing concept that national chains are offering signing bonuses and egregious starting wages to unskilled laborers, and you can see that small restaurants are finding themselves doomed from the start. However, with this being said, we survived 2020, so we can pull of the impossible again, right? We shall see.
In one of my restaurants, I already closed two days per week, and who knows what will happen with the other if we don’t get more people in the workforce? Hopefully, we can maintain our seven-day schedule, but with modern dilemmas afoot, everyone will have to make adjustments. Hopefully, our customers can appreciate that. Fingers crossed.
So, in earnest I beg of you to take care of any chicken wings and crab meat that you may get your hands on. Take care of this precious gold. It is not to be taken for granted.
The Best Wings Ever
Makes 20 wings
20 Chicken wing segments
1 c. Italian vinaigrette
Salt & Pepper, as needed
1/2 c. Basil puree (recipe follows)
1/2 c. HanksTM Hot Sauce
- These wings are made in stages, so read through the recipe and time it out properly.
- Marinate the chicken wing segments in the dressing for at least forty-five minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper and place on a hot grill. The wings will char a bit as they cook, but that is what we are looking for. You want that lovely Cuban Wing feel to them.
- Remove from the grill and let rest for about forty minutes (or refrigerate for future use, but they’re better day-of). This step sets these wings apart from others, as when they go through the final step, the meat falls off the bone.
- When it’s go-time, roast the chicken wings in a 450F oven for about ten minutes.
- Toss with the basil puree and hot sauce and serve immediately.
- Shed tears of pride and sadness, knowing that you have created such a lovely gift while knowing that you might not be able to find enough wings for your next shindig. Blast you, supply chain. Blast you!
—Paul Suplee is a Professor
of Culinary Arts at Wor-Wic
Community College and
owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.