We partnered with COOL HUNTING™ and Rémy Martin® to launch the #LiveThem Awards as a way of helping one reader start 2017 off the right way: by taking one of his or her many personal talents to an entirely new level. Over the last month, we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of thoughtful proposals that were submitted for the grant and are deeply appreciative of everyone who invested their time in filling out an application.
Today, we’re pleased to share our winner, William Schwing. Schwing is a curious heart who explores new topics with a self-described “headfirst compulsion.” To learn Spanish, he moved to Guatemala. To become better at rugby, he went to New Zealand. He studied Conflict and Reconciliation in South Africa and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. He is also the co-founder and creative director of LA-based Tawny Goods, a small-batch leather footwear company. Alongside his many adventures and pursuits, Schwing has been working to perfect his secret fried chicken recipe. The #LiveThem Award will help him to pursue this passion, the funds allowing him to perfect his recipe, compete in the famous Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival in Tennessee, and foster fried chicken community online at the Fryer’s Club. We talked with Schwing to hear more about his passion and plan.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your introduction to cooking?
A: Well, I am by no means a chef. I am at best a curious home cook, but that’s at best. I absolutely love to cook, and I love challenges, so most of what I’m passionate about comes from a desire to try new things and to test new techniques.
My first real introduction to cooking was in college. My roommates and I would throw large dinner parties for friends, usually spending way too much time and more money than we had in the process. There was always more food than we needed, and we always ate much later than we expected to, but we loved every second of it. Eventually it became it clear that the object of cooking, for me at least, had almost nothing to do with the food, and everything to do with the experience of making it.
Q: Do you remember the first — or perhaps the most memorable — fried chicken you tried? What was the catalyst to making your own?
A: I think my most memorable fried chicken experience and the catalyst for this challenge comes from the same moment. A little over a year ago, for no apparent reason, I really wanted a fried chicken sandwich, but not just any fried chicken sandwich. I wanted the best fried chicken sandwich in Los Angeles. So, I started researching and found that not only were there a ton of fried chicken places in LA, but all of them had a special story and a local cult following. Eventually I decided on a sandwich from a restaurant near where I lived, and it was no doubt, an incredible fried chicken sandwich. After that, the same curiosity took over and I became more intentional about my recipe.
Q: Even though it’s a secret recipe, can you give us a few hints about your process or flavors?
A: I can’t say much, but here is what I can say: I think a long brine is crucial, as well as a balance of spices. I don’t want to blow people out of the water with just chili spices, nor do I want a simple piece of chicken either.
Q: Your project is about culture, not just food — can you explain a little about that?
A: Ultimately, as much as I love to cook and eat, the first lesson I learned from cooking with friends still applies. It has never been about the food. I don’t think it’s just about the farmers or ingredients either, and that’s where I want to take this project. Fried chicken has a long, storied past in the United States, and to neglect some of that history is in itself a sort of injustice. So, I’d love to try and talk to everyone, from food historians to farmers, chefs and restauranteurs, and so on in a way to better understand the richness of our shared cultural past.
Q: How will you use your funds from the #LiveThem award?
A: The funds will help twofold. First, there’s a fried chicken festival in Gordonsville, Virginia, that I’d like to compete in, and along the way I’ll be speaking with farmers, chefs and others as I perfect my recipe. There are a ton of festivals out there, but this one is important. Gordonsville was named the center of the universe for fried chicken in the late 1800s, and I think it’s important to honor that history. Secondly, I’ll use these funds to develop the Fryer’s Club, a website that expands on this concept by using food as a medium for telling other people’s stories.
Q: Tell us a little about the concept for the Fryer’s Club — how did it come about and what do you want it to achieve?
A: This project, and my cooking, has always been something shared socially. It’s never been about personal enrichment, and I mean that honestly. The idea for the Fryer’s Club came as a natural result of wanting to compete in Gordonsville, and wanting to share what I learn or experience with friends.
Overall, I hope that the Fryer’s Club is entertaining, and a bit irreverent at times, but at its core I hope visitors leave with a new and deeper understanding of other cultures by learning about their food. That isn’t a new concept of course, but I’m hoping that curiosity mixed with a bit of obsession will yield something of value.
What does that actually look like? Well, more challenges, interviews, recipes, photography and video how-to’s, in a nutshell.
Q: Is there something intangible you think you’ll be able to achieve thanks to the #LiveThem award? Something that will affect other aspects of your or other’s lives?
A: Listen, being obsessive about fried chicken is weird, but the hope is that through this experience other people get to eat well and share more.
Q: Who makes your favorite fried chicken in the U.S.?
A: I absolutely love Nashville-style hot chicken, and with Prince’s opening a location in LA, along with Gus’s Fried Chicken, and Howlin’ Rays already the local favorite, the winner may just deserve their own feature someday on the Fryer’s Club.