Lee Schrager is a man with big ideas. He is a South Beach visionary who like other great visionaries can turn a concept into a reality, usually a big, delicious one. Most notably is The South Beach Wine & Food Festival which he started as a one-day festival over 10 years ago.
Today it’s a prestigious 4 day event with over 60,000 attendees.
His latest creation Fried & True is a beautifully compiled, heartfelt dedication to the art (and science) of fried chicken. I caught up with Lee earlier this month to see what he had to say.
SM: Hi Lee, it’s great to see you and congratulations on your new book.
LS: Thank you!
SM: Describe what you’re feeling right now as your book is about to hit the shelves.
LS: It’s exciting. It’s pretty spectacular. This week it went out to the reviewers and the media.
SM: Anyfeedback so far?
LS: Actually, I just opened an email from my publisher Doris Cooper. She called it “visually arresting.”
SM: Wow. I had a quick peek, she’s right, it’s a beautiful book. Why a cookbook on fried chicken? How was the idea hatched?
LS: Well, I’ve been collecting cookbooks for over 20 years. After my last book (Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook) I swore I would never do another one. I was with my friend Art Smith, (Oprah’s former chef), who makes this great fried chicken, and at Trisha Yearwood’s Southern Kitchen Brunch during the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival my publisher says to me: “You should do a fried chicken cookbook.”
SM: So when did you decide to hit the road?
LS: Soon after — around March of last year. My co-author and I collected hundreds of recipes and eventually whittled it down to about 50.
SM: Taking a road trip, making new friends, eating fried chicken…not a bad way to spend a few months.
LS: It has been the most fun experience. The most fun project I’ve had in a long time.
SM: The photographs and the stories are a big component of the book and an aspect that I think sets it apart.
LS: The stories were fantastic as were the people. We collected recipes from shacks on the side of the road to gas stations to celebrity chefs. It was great how people kept referencing the word love like… “this recipe is full of love or I love my grandmother’s recipe.”
SM: I’m not surprised. So, what makes Fried & True different and unique?
LS: It’s not just a cookbook. We break down in detail everything from how to debone, to how much fat is needed, to frying times. And we’ve also included recipes for extraordinary sides, like the hash brown soufflé, the fried green tomatoes, the biscuits and of course Michelle Bernstein’s wonderful watermelon salad.
SM: You had me at hash brown soufflé! I’m sure you’re sick of this question but I must ask: when you’re home, cooking fried chicken for friends, do you have a goto recipe from the book?
LS: It depends. If I’m in the mood for something simple, I love Paula Deen’s. If I want something more sophisticated, Thomas Keller’s or…well, there are so many!
SM: Your book comes out May 20th— your timing could not be more perfect with Memorial Day and the 4th of July right around the corner.
LS: Let’s not forget National Fried Chicken Day on July 6th!
SM: Of course! How could I forget. Any plans for another cookbook?
LS: Yes, we are ready to set out on our next road trip — for the Best Breakfast in the Country.
SM: Sounds right up my alley. Before I let you go, what’s your work mantra? LS: Get it done!
SM: And your life mantra?
LS: I have two.
LS: If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.
SM: Hmmm, that’s very fried and true. And the other?
LS: Love what you do and do what you love.
SM: I like it and for the record, we love what you do.
Best of luck!