Fryday I'm in Love: A Chicken Story

By way of introduction, my name is Chef James Cullen, and I want to tell you a love story. A love story about a girl, fried chicken, and the city of New Orleans. This story has more turns than the lower Missississippi River, but I'll try and get to the point. 

I fell in love with a woman from New Orleans and the city of New Orleans about eight years ago, give or take. Both were completely unexpected, sudden, and ineluctable.  As unexpected as a guy from New Jersey frying sublime chicken...

We didn't get fried chicken often as kids. Italian style fried chicken cutlets, sure -- but the on the bone, slightly spicy, deeply savory fried chicken that is ubiquitous in New Orleans was nowhere to be found. The closest thing we had was KFC and that isnt close.

In the early 2000s, while working as an IBEW electrical foreman I developed an interest in cooking (one that eventually led me to the French Culinary Institute). I think I was watching Tyler Florence on Food Network one day and he was frying chicken. I thought it looked fun and got a recipe and tried it. I'm sure my initial foray into fried chicken was inauspicious, but it sparked an interest. Years later, that interest would turn into a passion. 

On April 20th, 2010, a massive oil spill erupted into the Gulf. It was one month after we returned home from New Orleans. The news was devastating, and watching on TV we felt helpless. Kind of absent-mindedly, I remarked that I should fry some chicken. That off-hand statement turned into a fundraiser that we threw at our house that raised a few thousand dollars. Not a single piece of chicken was left. Soon I began frying chicken all the time for events. It became my signature dish. 

But I was still a novice. I needed to learn more. And I started to study fried chicken. I read about its masters, ordered it on every menu that offered it, and traveled across the country for it. Even today, I still peek into every kitchen to see what they are doing (I'm pretty sure Chef Leah Chase is gonna ban me from her kitchen one day). I'm always learning and always trying to do better, but I am ready to make a debut.

Which leads me to today, and an opportunity to showcase my work in the Fried Chicken Festival happening in New Orleans on September 25, 2016. I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase my chicken, and the first step to a brick and mortar establishment. Of course these things cost money, and capital is one of the hardest things for a chef to raise. Labor, food costs, permiting, equipment costs and rentals, advertising, marketing, etc are all necessary to make this work.

This is why I am asking for your help. I want to build something in our community, New Orleans. Something for the the people that I love in the city that I love. To say I'll be forever grateful is an understatement.


James Scott Cullen
New Orleans, LA

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