Today’s post is about a book that not many people know about — Col. Harland Sanders, The Autobiography of the Original Celebrity Chef.
The history is murky but apparently about the time Colonel Sanders sold his Kentucky Fried Chicken company, he wrote his autobiography and gave it to the new owners as part of his endorsement deal. It was apparently shoved into a filing cabinet and forgotten — for almost FIFTY YEARS!. Several years ago, an archivist just happened across it. It was edited and released as an eBook (PDF only). Frankly, I’m not sure it is still available, but in 2012 I responded to an ad in the store at my local KFC and acquired a copy. It was a giveaway if you “liked’ their Facebook page.
A lot of people made fun of it, and I mostly picked it up for the recipe section. Yes, I’m a crazy cookbook guy and that was my intention. But I was between books at the time and, well, I read the book.
I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Harland Sanders led a very interesting life, with success followed by failure at least three or four times. In a way he was the epitome of the American Dream … a true twentieth century entrepreneur, always trying something new to find a niche. His combination restaurant/motel (I believe he called it a Motorcourt) was his most successful venture prior to KFC, spanning the thirties and forties, but in the mid-fifties he found his business abandoned by the Interstate system and once again, in his sixties, he was broke.
He had tweaked that fried chicken process over the years and thought he had something he could market, so once again he literally loaded what he could in his car and hit the road. He built that business from the ground up, selling the equipment, the ingredients, and the process in a pioneering franchising scheme that would influence the future many times over.
I always thought he was kind of a joke before I read this book. Not so anymore. He was a self-made man, several times, reinventing himself with the times. Say what you will about KFC as a franchise, but Colonel Sanders has one of the most recognizable faces across the entire planet. Alien archaeologists visiting the earth ten thousand years from now will no doubt think he was some kind of deity, worshiped planet-wide … his holy visage represented on signs, containers, cups, bags, plates, buckets, and even the snatches of media they manage to preserve.
And what did he really think allowed his restaurant to flourish in the thirties and forties? Was it the chicken? Well, people did like his chicken, there is no doubt about that. But, no, it was his biscuits. You had biscuits on your table before you had coffee. They were always ready, piping hot. Guests in the motel got a platter of biscuits when they checked in. He as all about the biscuits. It is the FIRST recipe in the cookbook section. He was touting his biscuits long before he perfected the chicken.
No, I’m not going to share that recipe. It is one thing to share a 50 year old community cookbook recipe, but please understand, I’m not going toe to toe with KFC over copyright.
BUT, I do recommend they keep this cookbook out there. I wish they’d just go ahead and release it for free on standardized ebook formats. That was the only complaint I had … the pdf was a little funky on my Nook. It actually displayed much better on a computer.
No matter what preconceived notion you have about KFC, either the product or the company, just understand one thing: HE didn’t make this company the way it is today. All he had was an idea, and he tried to use that idea to sustain himself in his old age. He started the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise operation when he was in his sixties and broke. He didn’t just create a recipe, he created a process and a way to perpetuate it that served as a food service franchising model copied by others. I said before I thought he was a joke … this book made him into one of my personal heroes.
Come on, corporate bigwigs … enough with these stupid “colonel” commercials, give us the REAL, real Colonel Sanders.