My Dinner with Miss André — More Honors for Prince's Hot Chicken

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André Prince Jeffries and John T. Edge
  • André Prince Jeffries and John T. Edge
When I told you last month about the list of Nashvillians traveling to Charleston last weekend for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, I made a notable omission. On the day the festival kicked off, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack was awarded an "America's Classic" Award by the James Beard Society, and I also discovered that André Prince Jeffries was being honored by the CW+FF with a special dinner in her honor.

The Southern Foodways Alliance kicked off the celebration of the maven of hot chicken with a screening of Joe York's entertaining documentary of the Chicken Shack which features some of Miss André's best lines and stories. Then, SFA executive director interviewed Jeffries in front of a crowd assembled in their "Culinary Hub" tent at the festival site, which served as sort of a front porch for attendees. Joining Jeffries was James Beard award-winning chef Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in Charleston, who serves some mighty fine fried chicken himself.

Jeffries captivated the audience with her recounting of the origin story of the fiery fowl, which most local aficionados know by heart. Of course, she wouldn't share any information about the secrets of her recipe, but I did find out a few nuggets I hadn't previously heard.

When John T. pressed her about whether she brines her chicken, Jeffries did admit to "marinating" each piece in the same secret sauce. She said they used to only make hot chicken, but in response to popular demand, adjusted the levels of the paste from mild to extra hot. They no longer use the huge heavy cast iron skillets filled with what looked like decades-old 10W-40 oil. In response to the increasing demand for more and more hot chicken ("city folks found us and they sure do love some hot chicken"), Prince's has had to adapt to using deep-fryers. To my surprise, they cook in vegetable oil instead of lard, so now you can call hot chicken a healthy treat. Well, not really.

When asked what the best beverage to accompany your hot chicken fix should be, she responded "Beer. We don't sell it, but folks find ways to bring in their liquor." She did say that she was seeking out a beer license. Other suggested liquid fire extinguishers were milk and buttermilk, especially since the Baskin Robbins across the street closed down. "People miss that ice cream. It was the best." She also intimated that she receives many offers to franchise Prince's, and that she's not totally against it. But she fears that once she opens another location, she'll lose that personal touch. "And this is some 'personal' chicken."

On Saturday night, Chef Stehling and John T. were joined by chef Josh Walker of my favorite restaurant find of the weekend, Xiao Bao Biscuit, for a tribute to Jeffries and fried chicken in general. The menu was definitely an homage rather than an attempt to replicate the famous Nashville dish, and I'm not sure how most fans would feel about XBB's spicy chicken feet. But the effort was definitely appreciated, and the attention and adulation paid to Ms. Jeffries was well deserved.

When I asked her about all the recent honors, Ms. Jeffries said all she really wanted was for her fans to come visit more often. "Eat some chicken! Help me pay another bill!"

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