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
In your career, you’ve made the transition from sous chef, executive chef, chef caterer to now chef owner of Cluck N’ Cleaver. Share with us what inspired you to open a fast-casual take-out restaurant over fine dining.
I've always had a love for fried chicken so it comes from love. My sister is also a hobby chicken farmer so it was a bit of a joke at first, like "wouldn't it be hilarious if two sisters opened a chicken joint?"
One day, we started to think about our lives and how a chef makes a retirement for themselves which is how our quick-service / casual concept came about. We then wrote out a plan and today are planning on franchising it.
Your menu begins and ends with chicken. Describe your flavor process for creating the ultimate southern comfort food.
We are all about making better food fast from whole ingredients. A lot of our influences come from southern comfort, like our chicken which is buttermilk brined. There are 18 different spices in our flour mix but those are top secret.
As for the actual chicken, we have crispy fried and roast versions with the roast being in a much more traditional French style. Our crispy goes more into our take of what we think delicious fried chicken is supposed to taste like.
Your go-to cooking techniques for preparing your chicken are deep-frying and rotisserie. Describe how you maximize the flavors of your dishes.
It's all about the spicing, the marination and the technology. We use infrared roast rotisserie and then the chickens are pressure-fried as well. However, keeping it wholesome is most important. There are no preservatives or MSG, our dishes are made from whole, healthy ingredients and fresh, never frozen, Alberta chickens who were fed healthy diets.
Which spices and seasonings do you incorporate into your chicken dishes to elevate their southern flavor and make them stand out?
We use chipotle powder for salads, I can tell you that much, but the rest are a secret. The spices themselves are strategically balanced. For example, stronger spices don’t have as much use in the recipe, that’s the key. It’s all about ratio.
Outside of Cluck N’ Cleaver, at my catering company, we use a large variety of spices and seasonings. Anything from mustard powders to chipotle powders to onion garlic powder. I love using a lot of chili powders and Hungarian paprika.
So, what’s next for Cluck N’ Cleaver? What can we expect to see making its way onto your menu?
Our menu is fairly set for now, however, we did recently release our Mother Clucker Sandwich which is our take on a hot Nashville sandwich. It's slightly sweet yet kind of medium between Korean fried chicken where they use gochujang and Nashville hot where they use cayenne and a ton of paprika.
The next step for Cluck N' Cleaver itself is expansion, that's what we're really focused on. Our first expansion step would be toward Calgary and then Western Canada, anywhere between Vancouver and Saskatoon, followed by larger plots across the rest of Canada. If anything, we'd like to go international if we can. The possibilities are endless!