Behind the scenes at KFC’s Open Kitchen
April 9, 2019

I love a KFC. Controversial, I know. There’s a bit of a misconception that people who like decent food dine only on tasting menus or highfalutin creations featuring big-name chefs they can boast about and even bigger price tags.

Okay, at a push they might dine on plates of food from menus that talk about provenance, locally-sourced and top quality ingredients. Hell, they might even eat street food, feasting on the best of burgers and and other gourmet takes on the old fast food faves. But fast food itself? Never.

I suppose it’s possible that some people really do live that kind of life. I don’t I’m afraid. Yes, I love good quality food, pretty food, award-winning food, and fussy, pretty, Instagrammable food that’s been laid out on a plate with tweezers as much as the next person.

But I also love a KFC (and a Maccie Ds, though I’m not quite so keen on Burger King). Mr M and I have been known to dash down to our local branch when we hear Double Downs are back in town or to fill our faces with a Bargain Bucket. Sometimes we go our separate ways and I’ll chew on chicken in that greasy-faced carnivorous way that gets all the guys while he enjoys some kind of Zinger burger.

With that in mind, when I found out that KFC were giving people across the country the chance to spend a Saturday morning in their kitchen, breading and frying their own chicken and building their own burgers, how could I resist? So off I toddled with my long-suffering mum to fill my face with chicken and see exactly how they make it that finger lickin’ good.

No, we weren’t the only ones. It seems a few people love KFC enough to get up on a Saturday morning and don a funky outfit just so they can get in the kitchen. We went to the Northampton branch where we were welcomed with open arms by the manager who genuinely seemed rather excited to show us the work they put in.

I’ll ‘fess up now, I had (perhaps naively) assumed that a load of frozen, breaded chicken gets delivered to your local KFC, they whack it in the fryer and hey presto. Turns out it’s not quite that simple.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to compare the production of KFC to some kind of gourmet dish. That would, indeed, be a step too far. But a fair bit more goes into it than I realised and probably explains why it’s one of the global big-hitters when it comes to fast food.

We started with the obligatory hand-washing and a bit of explanation about how everything works. Fresh chicken arrives three times a week and then gets breaded right there on site before it’s fried and served up to us eager chicken fiends.

Before you even ask, no they didn’t tell us the Colonel’s secret ingredient. But we did get the chance to bread our own chicken using a finely-honed method that varies depending on whether you’re cooking up chicken pieces, fillets, or hot wings. There’s a very specific number of shakes, dips and turns to get the perfect coating on different types of chicken and woe betide you if you get that wrong.

After that they’re laid out, again in a very particular way – it’s all about efficiency – and whacked in pressurised fryers for the corresponding amount of time to the type and amount of chicken inside. Wait for the timer to count down and out they come, golden and crispy and ready to be eaten.

It’s simple but it’s also large-scale cooking for a big brand – there are all sorts of numbers to be crunched, each bit of chicken that for whatever reason doesn’t get bought has to be accounted for, stuff has to get tested to make sure it’s cooked, computer systems flash numbers and queues and all sorts of information.

There’s drying time too, and apparently this can have a huge effect. Ever had a soggy, greasy KFC? Chances are apparently the chicken was either cooked when the oil wasn’t quite hot enough or wasn’t left for the right amount of drying time. Either way, that zinger will be a bit disappointing.

That was interesting enough for me, but I was keen to seek promotion from the cooking part to the burger-building zone. Again, precision is key – presumably to limit wastage. Toast the bun, add one shot of mayo from the rather impressive-looking gun, exactly 15g of lettuce and then a fillet.

Some of it’s obvious, I know. But if you’ve never been into somewhere like this then, like me, you too would undoubtedly find it fascinating when you start to delve into what goes into churning out mountains of food that not only turns a profit, not only tastes quite good, but is consistent each and every time.

At the KFC we went to, they turn out an average of 2,500 pieces of chicken a DAY and overall KFC sells around 14 million pieces of chicken a week – so if you think about what has to go into breading them, frying them, blah blah blah and making them all pretty much the same every time, it’s actually rather impressive.

Not as impressive as eating them of course, which was the main aim of the game. I went for a zinger burger, mum for a few bits of chicken plus a ‘Kream Ball’ – a kid’s dream treat of chocolate chunks, ice cream and chocolate sauce.

I’m not gonna warble on about how it tasted. Most of us have had a KFC. I loved it – and the fact it was basically my Saturday morning breakfast and I’d actually helped cook it made it even better. Not to mention it’s possibly the most bonkers mother-daughter activity I’ve ever done but hey, she’s used to me by now.

Now, I know this post is a bit out of the ordinary and yes, it is slightly tongue in cheek. I’m not going to tell you that KFC is as great as a lovingly-prepared fried chicken burger that you’ll find at an independent burger joint or street food place where passion comes before price.

Of course it’s not. But it’s also incredibly accessible – both in terms of where you can get it and its price. Ok, we shouldn’t be eating it every single day – for our own health and also because we should be looking at what else is out there and supporting them too. But is there any harm in the odd treat when the feeling takes you? I don’t think so.

Like it or not, fast food isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of our society and part of our culture. You also might be interested to know that people’s chicken preferences vary from place to place – apparently just in Northamptonshire, one particular town favours buckets, while in another area burgers are the meal of choice.

Social analysis aside, seeing what goes into creating my fave fast food made for an interesting and fun morning out. Made even better by rounding it off with a KFC for breakfast. Because enjoying food isn’t always about the fancy stuff folks, it’s about whatever floats your boat.

KFC Open Kitchen was open to anyone and cost £5 per person, with money going to the KFC Foundation, which supports local charities who help develop and nurture young people. I wasn’t asked to write about it but thought you might enjoy it.