The first-ever #LiveThem Award—a unique initiative from Gear Patrol, COOL HUNTING and Rémy Martin®—has been fascinating to follow. The entries were countless and the passions wildly varied. The winner was difficult to pick, but ultimately we chose William Schwing—co-founder of Tawny Goods by day and an enthusiastic fried chicken expert in his spare time. He is one multi-faceted individual, with his position at Tawny Goods making him an expert and enthusiast on design, leather-working, shoemaking, craftsmanship, quality—and of course, business. Not only that, he’s lived all over the world, thanks to his diverse interests; from New Zealand to South Africa to Guatemala where he pursued various studies and passions.
Schwing’s out-of-work passion inspired him to participate in the fried chicken festival competition in Gordonsville, Virginia as well as start his own website called The Fryers Club. While he has dedicated time, energy and eagerness to this so far, he still needed the funds to develop the site and prepare for the competition. That’s where the #LiveThem Award came in, and Schwing now has $10,000 to dedicate to his passion project. We spoke with him about the award, cooking, challenges and of course, his obsession with fried chicken.
Can you tell us a little about your introduction to cooking?
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.
Do you remember the first—or perhaps the most memorable fried chicken—you tried? Was it the catalyst for trying to make your own?
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.
Even though it’s a secret recipe, can you give us a few hints about your process or flavors?
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.
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
Your project is about culture, not just food—can you explain a little about that?
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 restaurateurs, and so on in a way to better understand the richness of our shared cultural past.
How will you use your funds from the #LiveThem award?
The funds will help two-fold. 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 Fryers Club, a website that expands on this concept by using food as a medium for telling other people’s stories.
Tell us a little about the concept for The Fryers Club—how did it come about and what do you want it to achieve?
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 Fryers 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 Fryers 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 nut shell.
Apart from the tangible aspects, is there something you want to achieve thanks to the #LiveThem award?
Listen, being obsessive about fried chicken is weird, but the hope that through this experience other people get to eat well and share more.
Images courtesy of William Schwing