I’m Luton boy, born and raised. So
when I heard a rumbling that one of my old take-away haunts – Chicken George
– had done a collab with Chilli Magazine’s buddy, The Ribman, I
decided to go back and find out what they were up to.
I met with the guys back at that very same shop I used to visit as a 20-something, which is sited not 200 yards from the house I was born in. We sat up in the private dining bar above the shop, sampled some amazing chicken recipes and talked about the old times, before settling down to matters at hand…
September 2019 saw Chicken George crowned champions at the World’s biggest chicken wing festival, Wingfest, following a hook-up with one of London’s finest, The Ribman. I asked the guys to talk me through the successful collaboration.
Owner Chris Cheah told me ‘I’d only met Mark (Gevaux) a few weeks earlier – the whole thing was a whirlwind. I’d tried his sauces and so I knew they were good products. Mark was having a few… let’s say ‘issues’… with a restaurant chain using his brand name but actually replacing his product with Franks® . He thought creating his own Buffalo Sauce for Wingfest would be a good opportunity to measure up against the Hot Sauce giants, and so the collaboration idea was born’.
Over 30 traders went to the Olympic Stadium in London to compete for Best Wild Wing and Best Buffalo Wing and Chicken George were awarded the following:
1st place Best Buffalo Wing for the Ribman collab (Peoples Vote)
2nd place Best Wild Wing for the Ribman Bacon Holy F*ck wing (Peoples Vote)
3rd place Best Wild Wing for the Ribman Bacon Holy F*ck wing (Judges Vote)
Chris said, ‘when the winners announcement was made, the whole place was in shock. Wingman had monopolised these awards for the previous few years, so for a little independent business from Luton to mix it up with the big boys – and win – was just immense. We were particularly delighted to claim 1st and 2nd in the Peoples Vote because it required the customers to vote for their favourite (via the Wingfest app) after tasting all the exhibitors food. It’s completely done on taste, no sales pitch or hype. So that public vote really mattered to us.’
We then spoke about the expansion plans for the Chicken George empire, to include a new premises in Hertfordshire.
‘With our new venture in Hitchin we are looking to completely revolutionise the wing game by introducing a small plate-sharing menu to our sit-down restaurant and serve this alongside a quality cocktail and full bar menu’ Chris said.
‘One side of our new location on Bancroft will be a walk-in takeaway with seats and perches enabling customers to eat in or take their food away, the takeaway will have plenty of neon signs and graffiti as we are looking to replicate that Chicken George vibe’.
The other side will be the restaurant – it will only seat around 30 guests, so we are aiming for an exclusive feel and high demand for a table. The restaurant will feature a menu fully designed by me and will encourage socialising and sharing the small plates of award winning food that comes out of the kitchen when its ready and in no particular order. We will also be offering an extensive cocktail, wine and beer menu to complement our food.’
About Chris Cheah
Chris Cheah is the man behind everything good that Chicken George does. As Dan (Business Development Manager), Chris and I sat chatting, Chris was in and out of the kitchen, instructing staff, placing orders with suppliers, overseeing deliveries. ‘He’s a nightmare to tie down’ said Dan. Every now and then Chris would return to present us with a different plate of piping hot, freshly cooked chicken, coated in superb sauces, flavours, toppings and all presented beautifully. He’s got it down. The coating was thick and crunchy, the chicken inside was juicy and just fell away from the bone. And every single flavour we tried was cooked to this same perfection.
He began his chef career aged 19 and has worked in some of the country’s top restaurants and alongside some of the best chefs in the industry including Masterchef the Professional’s Steve Barringer and Great British Menu winner Emily Watkins.
After several years of working in and around London, Chris was asked to take on the running of the family business in 2015 by his dad Ray, who had founded Chicken George in 1985. He was determined to turn Chicken George into the best chicken shop around, a feat he achieved after only one year! During Chris’s first year Chicken George was awarded the Best Takeaway in the South East and the following year won the Best Takeaway in the UK!
As well as the Luton shop, Chris has now branched out into street food and events, and has won numerous awards on the Chicken George Trailer including:
Best Buffalo wing at Wingfest 2019
Best in Show at Grilljam 2019
Best Wing at Wingjam 2019
Following the launch of the Hitchin restaurant in Spring 2020, Chris plans to open several more in the coming years. I’d urge everyone to give this food a try. In my opinion, it’s quite simply the best chicken you’ll eat.
Find out more about Chicken George as they answer our ‘Talking to…’ interview below.
What is your real name and what is your role in Chicken George?
Christopher Cheah and I am Managing Director and owner of Chicken George.
Who are the people behind the company, Chris, tell us a bit about your team, who they are and what they do.
My dad Ray Cheah started the company back in 1985 and he still helps out at the shop, we have a newly appointed Business Development Manager, Dan Simpson, who runs the business side of things and is overseeing our expansion. We then have Jahmain who is our shop manager and a team of over 20 staff who work in shifts to keep the award-winning fried chicken and wings flying out the door!
So that we can identify your brand, can you describe your logo to us, is there a story behind it – how did it come about?
With the logo we wanted to emphasise the American influence on our menu with the classic fried chicken, ribs and wings.
What challenges did you face to get your brand where it is today?
As with everyone in our industry the most challenging aspect is keeping the standards high to ensure our customers keep returning, as there are so many food options for people nowadays. Thankfully we must be doing something right as we have been in business for over 30 years now!
Its amazing food mate, I can vouch for that! When did you become involved in Chicken George, were you born into it, or what did you do before? Where did your passion for cooking stem from?
My dad handed the business over to me when he semi-retired in 2015. Before this I worked in several top restaurants in London and alongside some top chefs which allowed me to learn and develop the skills I use today at Chicken George.
Since that day, what major changes have taken place in the business?
My dad had done an amazing job at making Chicken George a local legend, but I wanted to take the business to the next level. With this in mind we updated the logo and menus, and pimped up the menu by adding a new twist to the classic chicken shop recipes my dad was selling.
As a chilli magazine do you know how many of your recipes include chilli? Roughly how many wings/kilos of chicken you sell?
We get through over 300kg of wings per week and use chilli in several of our wing recipes including the buffalo, our new spicy peanut, lime and chilli wing and of course the Ribman wing!
What is the most popular product you sell Chris?
We will always sell a lot of fried chicken on the bone and sticky bbq ribs as this is what the company was built on, but recently our wings have been very popular, in part due to our wins at Wingjam and Wingfest, with our mango wings proving to be a real hit.
Do you enjoy chilli yourself?
I personally do not enjoy heat but love the flavour that chillies can add to a dish, and for me I prefer to add a deseeded chilli rather than pepper to many dishes to add flavour.
Have you got any exciting plans for 2020, new campaigns, investment?
2020 is going to be a huge year for us as we open our first sit down wing bar in Hitchin. We are moving away from the classic chicken shop and into the restaurant world where you can get our food alongside a cocktail or nice cold pint!
What was the last thing you ate that blew your head off?
Anything from The Ribman!
There’s loads of amazing artisan chilli sauces out there (and some real mass-produced crap), which ones do you like and why?
Again our favourite sauces to both eat and cook with are from The Ribman or of course Pepper Jar Creations!
Ha! You trying to make me blush!!? Do you have other flavours or ideas in the pipeline?
That would be telling! Seriously though we are always looking to add new flavours to our wing menu for our customers, recent new flavours have been garlic and parmesan and spicy peanut, lime and chilli. We are also looking to add some grilled wings to our menu alongside our regular fried wings, with flavours such as jerk and Malaysian curry.
Briefly, where can we find your product?
We have our original takeaway at 345 Hitchin Road in Luton and soon we will be opening our first sit down wing bar in Hitchin, on top of those we have our food trailer that attends food and music festivals around the country.
Do you visit any chilli festivals?
As I mentioned earlier I’m not actually the biggest chilli fan as such, but I know all about how popular the Cheese & Chilli Festivals are and we are looking to take our trailer to some of them this year. Wings and hot sauce are just such a great combo.
What advice could you offer someone wanting to start up a fast food outlet?
Focus on quality and consistency and really master your product. Also social media is the best tool to use for building your brand.
Has anyone famous ever tried your products?
Yes we regularly have the players from Northampton Saints and Saracens rugby clubs coming into the shop and we also feed the players after training sometimes. Ainsley Harriott was a judge at the Just Eat awards when we were crowned best takeaway in the UK so he must have enjoyed our food! Pixie Lott tried us at a food festival and loved us! Marvin from JLS and Rochelle Humes had our food in Shoreditch.
Can you elaborate about the collaboration with RibMan and the Awards that you guys have won.
Our Business Development Manager Dan bought some sauce from Mark (RibMan) and as soon as he tasted it knew that it would make a great hot wing so he brought it over for me to play with. As soon as I put Mark’s bacon holy f*ck sauce on our wings and topped it with bacon pieces, crushed frazzles and chives I knew we were on to a winner!
We have won several awards over the years:
2015 Best Takeaway in the South East at the Just Eat awards
2016 Best Takeaway in the East at the Just Eat awards
2016 Best Takeaway in the UK at the Just Eat awards
2017 The first ever Game Changer award at the Just Eat awards
2019 Wingjam Best unique wing for our mango wing
2019 Best buffalo wing at Wingfest for our Ribman buffalo wing
2019 Hitchin Taco Wars winner
2019 Grilljam best in show and best wings
Milk or Beer? Beer
Salad or roast? Roast
BBQ sauce or Ketchup? BBQ
Kylie or Metallica? Metallica
Habanero or Scotch Bonnet? Scotch Bonnet
Wing, leg or breast? Leg
Peri-Peri or Piri-piri? Piri piri
korma or vindaloo? Korma
Romantic meal for 2 or big family feast? Big family feast
Food festival or music festival? Food festival
Finally, if you could cook for anyone who would it be and what would you make for them?
The Ribman and I would cook him the bacon holy f*ck wings, ha ha!