At 351A George Street in Mobile’s Historic Oakleigh Garden District, there’s a corner-facing bungalow/craftsman style home-turned-restaurant called Kitchen on George. Inside, you’ll find cream colored walls, a richly stained wooden bar, steps leading toward sunlit dining tables, and glass-panel doors leading to the tropically foliaged back patio. The restaurant identifies as a “farm-to-table, ocean-to-table” seasonal American venue; it’s one that’s also undeniably southern without being obnoxious about it (I’m talking to you, Mason jar shot glasses).
Needless to say, it was an easy call to suggest Kitchen on George as a place for my family to convene for brunch with my best friend from Virginia, her husband, and their new baby. The combined 900% humidity and 90-plus degree temperature made the outdoors feel like Satan’s sauna; however, because we have a three-nager who can go from screaming to laughing to crying to shrieking in under a minute (she’s very talented) for no apparent reason, we thought it best to sit outside. I was sure I’d order off the seasonal brunch menu until our server noted that the then-Executive Chef Gillian Clark’s fried chicken had beat Bobby Flay’s. That was…impressive, so despite the fact that we were sitting on the surface of the sun, I ordered fried chicken because one simply doesn’t decline fried chicken just because there are seemingly more refined options to consider.
Our entrees arrived, and as I savored the first bite, I was transported to a happy place where my three-nager’s petulant rejection of the lovely biscuit and berries our server so kindly got for her didn’t matter…where the 9,000-degree heat didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the fusion of tender buttermilk-brined chicken and crispy breading. “This has to have been marinated in buttermilk for days,” I said to my husband while also considering it was possible that this chicken was born in buttermilk and spent its life luxuriating in a buttermilk bath. Needless to say, I would definitely be back exclusively for the fried chicken.
Shaking up the kitchen
In July 2016, Kitchen on George underwent a shifting of positions. Chef Gillian (and her fried chicken recipe) departed for the Mobile Museum of Art Café while award-winning culinary innovator Bryan Cates came on board as the executive chef. I met Nathan Kennedy who is Chef Gillian’s former apprentice and a current sous chef at Kitchen on George at the start of a busting early-August Sunday Brunch service.
The battle for fried chicken position
Though Nathan had been Chef Gillian’s apprentice, he respectfully declined to cook the former executive chef’s fried chicken.
“We had a competition between all of our line cooks and back-of-the-house; even front of the house participated to see who had the best fried chicken after she left. I wasn’t making her (Gillian’s) chicken. I’m into Creole cuisine…my grandmother was from Louisiana, and that’s what she did for me. I just upped what she did. She never brined it….so I took a little bit longer process, but took what I needed from her.”
Of the six entries, Chef Nathan says with a shy but proud smile, his was a unanimous win. Thus, Nathan became the residential fried chicken expert at a restaurant where he says he (and his fellow sous chefs) is given the opportunity to explore his ideation for culinary dishes while letting his heritage shine.
When asked what fried chicken means to him, Chef Nathan says, “Food is family to me. Sundays gathered around with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn bread, collard greens….”
In fact, at home, one of Nathan’s favorite things to cook for his family is his grandmother’s Masque Choix, which a Cajun side dish comprised of cream, corn, and other vegetables. He says he also likes to cook spicy Asian wings, which is a reflection of his passion for bold flavors.
Secrets of fried chicken master Nathan Kennedy
Needless to say, I was curious as to what Chef Nathan did that set his fried chicken so far above the rest. Well, first, Nathan reveals, he “breaks down a whole chicken, rinses it, and soaks it in buttermilk for at least three days…up to a week for the best results.”
“My seasoning is AP (all purpose) flour, celery salt, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder ….” I can’t help but think that sounds so simple for something so delicious and perfect.
Nathan continued explaining that he’s the one who makes the fried chicken every Wednesday and Sunday; only he knows his ratios…only he can do it.
Spoken like a true fried chicken master. Perfectly fried chicken is, after all, an art form and a balance. Though he’s not giving up the exact recipe (respectfully, I didn’t ask, and he didn’t volunteer), Nathan willingly shared his frying methods:
- Optimal oil temperature is 350 degrees
- Peanut oil is the way to go; though, Chef Gillian uses a blend…but, I’m on Team Nathan here…peanut oil all the way, baby
- Nathan deep-fries in order to ensure supply meets demand; though, Gillian pan-fried.
The last step before the chicken leaves the kitchen is that it gets a sprinkle of salt.
“I salt after I fry because I already have celery salt in it.” The added salt, he says, “gives it brightness.”
Savoring deep fried crispy, crunchy perfection
After all of the fried chicken talk, I finally had the opportunity to experience Chef Nathan’s fried chicken. It was glorious. The meat was juicy and flavorful, and the crust, my favorite part, was crunchy perfection. I’m usually sensitive to heat, but the honey Tabasco sauce served alongside was exquisite with the chicken and perfectly balanced. I generously dunked each bite in, coating it with glossy sauce and devouring it without an iota of shame. If he’d have cooked a whole bird, I’d honestly have eaten the whole thing with unfeminine jubilation because it’s that good.
While I ate, Chef Nathan talked comfortably to a couple brunching next to me. He chatted enthusiastically about the restaurant’s other creations like soft shell crab and the soups and stocks…. Yes, it’s obvious that Chef Nathan feels at home at Kitchen on George, a resplendent, respectable venue, where the humble perfection known as fried chicken is served twice a week…Wednesday, with collards and cornbread, and Sunday with waffles.