On June 24th, a tinted and lavish Ginny's Supper Club, under the often bustling Red Rooster in Harlem, hosted a launch to the public and local press for Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides compiled by Lee Brian Schrager (with Adeena Sussman). Fried & True features about 100 recipes from chefs/restaurateurs/cooks around the country offering their take on fried chicken in addition to side pairings reflecting the variations of what people of different backgrounds think of when it comes to a historic dish that is steadily becoming part of the "new wave" of food trends.
Fried & True's origins stem from Lee's complete and utter love of fried chicken. Growing up on Long Island it was a staple meal in his home and also a treat purchased and delivered when his parents went out. In the Introduction Lee states that he often orders fried chicken whenever he's out rather than making it himself to taste what others have to offer and how they reflect a change in the perceived tried and true way to make this American classic. Lee's involvement and background in so many aspects of the culinary world, including being the founder of the NY Food & Wine Festival and Food Network South Beach Wine & Food festival, make him a huge name in the industry and someone with an enviable palate.
Three NYC based chefs were featured at the Fried & True celebration, as were their contributions to the book for the evening's menu. Marcus Samuelsson (owner and chef of Red Rooster) who not only greeted attendees but was also working, Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country BBQ & Hill Country Chicken, and Harlem native with Southern roots Charles Gabriel whose restaurant Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken was lauded by Lee and Marcus as being the best fried chicken in Harlem, let alone New York City.
Guests received a copy of the book along with tote bags from sponsor Mastercard. But the only way to get a real sense of Fried & True was in the food itself. Attendees got to try recipes from Samuelsson including his coconut fried chicken on a bed of shredded bok choy claw with toasted peanuts, pickled jalapeno, and fried chickpeas; in addition to Elizabeth Karmel's garlic cheese grits with candied country ham and Charles Gabriel's candied yams.
Each dish was brought out family style and there were mutterings/requests for more. Karmel, mouth full, complimented Gabriel on his candied yams (simple with only a handful of ingredients; "a staple to real Southern cooking," he insisted). And Gabriel became a fan of Karmel's garlic cheese grits with ham bits sweetened with a crust of granulated and dark brown sugar. Samuelsson's chicken had a kick as did the bok choy slaw that reflected his signature style of a twist on an American classic while adding in bits of Samuelsson's African and European roots.
Brooklyn ice cream shop Ample Hills Creamery provided scoops of their popular flavors salted crack caramel and sweet as honey ice cream with toppings for dessert while guests enjoyed music from local artist Farrah Burns and her band.
Fried & True is split up into four sections: Southern Inspiration; American Originals; Pacific Rim Flavors; and Sandwiches, Wings, L'il Bites, and Special Diets. Some of the more heavily reflected regions for the recipes featured include the East coast (New York City has prominent coverage), the South(east), California, parts of the Midwest such as Chicago, and even Portland, OR.
Charles Gabriel being of South Carolina roots and having cooked with his mother at a very young age brings his wisdom and flavors to Harlem not just at his own shop but having been a chef at Copeland's in Harlem for a couple decades. He may be one of the few, if only, true Southern contemporaries bringing good ole down home fried chicken in a big ole cast iron (yes, you will need a cast iron as Fried & True notes in Fried Chicken 101) to make his chicken oh so crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Karmel's recipes also fit into Southern Inspiration and Samuelsson's contributions land in the American Originals section.
While Marcus Samuelsson may be considered the hot name and grand orator, Gabriel received the spotlight that evening and was someone anyone who hadn't know him before wanted to know. Lee said he absolutely had to have Gabriel's recipes in this book. Marcus echoed that when he first visited Harlem in preparation for his own restaurant that he was informed that he had to go to Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken on 150th and Frederick Douglass, get some chicken, and then head to Marcus Garvey Park to watch the residents play ball. To him, the combination of watching local ballers and eating Gabriel's chicken culminated in the perfect Sunday.
Gabriel is a tall, shy man with dark skin and a great smile. Once he talks about chicken, about cooking, he opens up, more extroverted and more animated in his talk about enjoying what he does and waking up early and going to bed late. Even after this event he was going straight to his restaurant to prep for the next day and was very much looking forward to closing up for a week to enjoy a vacation and cruise with his family. Gabriel was stopped, repeatedly, during conversation by those wanting his autograph, wanting to know where his shop was exactly, and saying that they'd be back to Harlem going further north this time around and, even with full bellies, were excited to try his food. This made Gabriel grin even wider, surprised and humbled by the celebrity thrust upon him that evening.
Fried & True brings attention to the hot spots and the smaller spots. It even brought "low-key fried chicken lovers out of the woodwork" where the unifier is good, comfort food that is recognizable to many from their childhood. Like Lee says, fried chicken is becoming part of the American "culinary canon" and this celebration of Fried & True's release may be just the resurgence fried chicken and the places that serve it needed.