Unless you've been eating potato chips in your closet for the past dozen years, you know Lee Brian Schrager as the creator of and force behind the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. But you might not know that he's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, that he's worked for culinary icons such as Eli Zabar and Peter DeLuca, and that he's opened both a bar and a restaurant in South Beach.
Also, that he loves fried chicken -- which he calls "America's favorite guilty pleasure" -- and that he's written book celebrating 50 of nation's best recipes for deep-fried fowl and the chefs and restaurants that serve it. Fried & True will go on sale May 20, but before it does, we got on the phone with the peripatetic Schrager, whose day job is vice president of corporate communications and national events for Southern Wine & Spirits, to get a few nuggets of fried chicken wisdom.
New Times: Why fried chicken?
Lee Schrager: I've always been fascinated by fried chicken. My memories of growing up were my parents going out on their weekly Saturday night out and having fried chicken delivered to us. I remember eating fried chicken more than a lot of other foods.
What is it about fried chicken that gives it such universal appeal?
Comfort. It's homey. It reminds you of childhood; it brings back memories. In developing this book -- whether it was a white-tablecloth restaurant like Thomas Keller's or Daniel Boulud's, or a side-of-the-street shack -- I found that everybody has a story, has a favorite recipe. It's something everyone relates to.
What's your favorite fried chicken recipe in the book?
There's a recipe from Asha Gomez; she's from southern India. It's a great chicken, marinated in herbs and yogurt and fried and served on a wonderful sweet-potato waffle. I love that. I love the chicken schnitzel from Yotam Ottolenghi in London. And, of course, who doesn't love Michelle Bernstein's chicken, right in our own backyard.
Speaking of our own backyard, where in Miami would you go for fried chicken?
Yardbird, Michy's, Publix, and Joe's.
Yep. Great fried chicken.
In doing research for the book, how much fried chicken did you eat?
Eleven pounds' worth. On me. We tried hundreds of different recipes. These are just some of my favorites.
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Are you sick of fried chicken now?
When we were finishing the road trip in the summer, I said, "I am not eating fried chicken for months, if I ever see it again." Then, a week later, of course, I found myself eating it.