Chef Irene Li
We recently spoke with Irene to find out more about the world of mobile foodservice and its differing processes from work-life in a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.Read Bio
Can you please explain your foodservice concept and how it differs from other chicken-orientated establishments?
At Hattie B's, we try to have a fast-casual service, separating us from fast food restaurants and more traditional table service. We also make all of our sides from scratch, blend all our spices to our proprietary ingredients as well as serve local beers. We always try to keep national beers on tap too at our out of town location and explore within those beer markets as well. It's a lot about community at Hattie B's.
What are some of the hottest (literally and figuratively) dishes served at Hattie B’s and what are the flavor concepts behind them?
We do have a variety of ranges of heat but if you want to talk about our hottest heat level, Damn Hot is our extra hot heat level and then Shut the Cluck Up is our extra, extra heat level for those native hot chicken eaters. We're not talking about buffalo wing spicy, it's a whole new world of spice. You're introducing a cayenne-based blend with habanero peppers and ghost peppers; it's packing a huge punch, giving probably 500,000+ Scoville Heat Units in each bite.
What role have spices and seasonings played in establishing Hattie B’s feature dishes in Nashville and beyond?
Nashville’s hot chicken is a cayenne-based spice blend. It all starts with the first ingredient being cayenne and then, through tradition, you're going to add some element of sugar, paprika and garlic. That's as far as I'll take it because everyone has their secret ingredient(s) for making their spice blend special to their establishment.
We just try to focus on quality and consistency every day, from the first customer in the door to the last customer in the door. Each city that we go into, we're going to stick with our game plan; serving hot chicken and 7 sides. You might see some new sides down the road if one doesn't do what we expect it to do somewhere but we're still going to stick to our Southern roots. This means serving those Southern classic dishes; always homemade and freshly breaded chicken that everyone can afford.
What are some spices or seasonings that always have to be in the Hattie B’s pantry?
With our main spices, that would be our proprietary spice blend; a hot bath of hot melted spices. We take the grease we fry our chicken with and mix it at 32 degrees Fahrenheit with our spice blend. That's how our chicken stays nice and crispy once that spice blend is over the top.
Outside of that, another spice at Hattie B's is always making sure we're checking for salt within dish and ensuring each one is very well balanced. You've got to have the proper amount of salt, acidity; vinegar and salt are two of our favorite things at Hattie B's.
Originally coming from fine dining, what learnings or techniques from that time period do you still put to use today?
We always start with the fundamentals of cooking with each dish. You have to walk through and build all these dishes. So, for example, with our mac n’ cheese, we made a cheesy mornay sauce. You make a classic root and then mix milk, all of our spices that enhance the flavor and then mount with butter and cheese at the end.
There are French techniques you build a dish with that we try to use with our dishes. They're not as eloquent or complex because you have to make sure that anyone can prepare these recipes. We've done it in a way to keep them so simple that now; everyone can make our mornay sauce, vinaigrettes and homemade custard for the banana pudding.
What’s the most memorable story you can recollect in regard to someone trying your Hattie B’s hot chicken?
The most memorable was one time in our first year, a lady came into Hattie B's 9 months pregnant with her husband. She said, "I want to have this baby soon," and she had read that if she ate spicy food, it could induce labor. She of course went for our Shut the Cluck Up. We got an email a week later, she'd had her baby the very next morning and named her, Hattie.
What flavors, heats or seasonings do you see yourself experimenting with next?
I don't know about experimentation with Hattie B's as much as there'd be refinement as we’re always trying to make sure everything is where it needs to be. We do yearly audits and every quarter, working through recipes and negative feedback we've received. We want to ensure everyone is coached up as best as possible to execute these recipes production-wise.
Later on in my career, I definitely plan on experimenting as far as my own concept goes but that's well down the road and we're really focusing right now on growing this business, building good chains and continuing to execute consistently day in and day out.