STARRED REVIEW
March 15, 2021

Hot, Hot Chicken

Rachel Louise Martin

Hot, Hot Chicken is an eye-opening, ingenious history that makes Nashville come alive in ways that transcend its downtown honky tonks.
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If you’ve been following Nashville’s meteoric rise to It City status, you’ve surely heard about its famous hot chicken—fried chicken smothered with enough cayenne pepper to make your ears smoke. As the legend goes, in the early 20th century, a jilted lover overspiced Thornton Prince III’s chicken to punish him for his ramblin’ ways. This revenge backfired, however, because Prince loved the taste and eventually founded a successful restaurant based on the recipe, which his family still operates today.

Native Nashvillians and tourists alike have come to know and love this delicacy over the last decade, but members of Music City’s Black community have been braving the spice for generations. No matter when you learned about this iconic fare, Rachel Louise Martin’s Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story will enlighten you about its complex past.

This isn’t a recipe book, nor is it merely a culinary history of the spicy dish. In Hot, Hot Chicken, Martin traces Prince’s lineage back to the Civil War, illustrating the experiences of Black people in antebellum Tennessee along the way. She outlines how Prince’s grandparents were likely enslaved at a plantation south of Nashville. Pre-Emancipation records are spotty, and many details have been lost to time, but they may have lived in the Black refugee camps that formed on the outskirts of the city during the Civil War. Records of African Americans became more detailed after the war and show that the Princes went on to become sharecroppers and house servants, washing white Nashvillians’ clothes before becoming fledgling restaurateurs.

Alongside the Princes’ family history, Martin draws on her meticulous research to demonstrate what life was like for other Black people in Nashville during the Reconstruction, Jim Crow and civil rights eras through today. As she progresses through the city’s past, she explains how city planners isolated Black citizens in bleak slums without plumbing or electricity. White landlords exploited the people living in these neighborhoods, but entrepreneurs such as Prince and his brother found a way out of poverty by preparing and selling food.

As Martin scours a historical record designed to exclude Black Americans, she admirably pieces together tales from individuals known and unknown. Her tone is both ebullient and reverent as she unearths the lives of Black people across the South, handling their history with care. Hot, Hot Chicken is an eye-opening, ingenious history that makes Nashville come alive in ways that transcend its downtown honky tonks—and will leave you with a newfound respect for the sizzling food on your plate.

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Hot, Hot Chicken

Hot, Hot Chicken

Vanderbilt University
ISBN 9780826501769

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