Archies Hot Chicken Perth

Interview: Getting Hot And Spicy With Nashville Fried Chicken Maestro, Archie’s Hot Chicken

byKale Armstrong
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With its crispy edges, fiery blend of spices and a whole lot of love, Andrew McGowan has certainly nailed the art of Nashville Fried Chicken. McGowan’s mobile pop-up – Archie’s Hot Chicken – has been busy over the past couple of years keeping up with the high demand for their fiery tenders and burgers, making appearances at many an event and renowned eatery.

We caught up with Andrew to talk about how passion and experimentation lead to the creation of Archies Hot Chicken, and the fight against the council for a more vibrant street food culture.

Archies Hot Chicken Pop Up

What first peaked your interest in Nashville Fried Chicken?

I’ve always had an interest in food and cooking. It kind of came from my folks both doing shift work when I was younger. I got into all sorts of cooking and was always chipping away at some kind of cuisine or style of cooking. I got into barbeque in around 2018/2019. I got a fair few barbeques under my belt and got reasonably good at it. It wasn’t particularly pretty but it was tasty.

That lead to me doing a fair amount of research on YouTube. It was around the time Howlin’ Rays was catching fire internationally. I’d recently bought a frier – I was playing with some generic fried chicken – and I just went ‘hang on. I’m already making fried chicken, I may as well have a crack at some Nashville stuff.’

It was kind of a perfect storm, because at the same time the Facebook page ‘Perth Burger Hunters’ was starting to grab some traction. Perth was kind of in a ‘Burgernaissance’ I suppose you could call it. It wasn’t just Jus and Grill’d anymore, we were starting to get some good ones like Meat & Bun, Short Order and Hoodburger. I just started going to these places, posting reviews and psychoanalysing them like I do. That kept my interest in food going.

I went on a training course to Melbourne and realised I’d had [Nashville style chicken] like this years ago. So, I started to decide what I wanted to base mine off of. I knew I wanted to create something accessible but still had the fun of spicy food and my love of classic Perth flavours.

When did you decide to take it to the next level?

I started playing around and posting on ‘Perth Burger Hunters.’ At that stage, Don from Big Don’s Smoked Meats was scouring the internet for special ideas. Something as a side option. Him and Tristan were doing smash burgers at bowls clubs around Perth which was going really well. They literally just sent me a message one day asking ‘how would you like to sell [your chicken]?’ I was like, ‘I was just having fun tinkering and posting photos, but that sounds amazing.’

My Aunty had done food businesses for most of her life – mainly chutneys and things like that – and still does. I’d always been interested in that kind of business. I knew I’d be crazy to say ‘no’ to that kind of opportunity.

How did you find that first service selling to the public?

I fumbled my way through my first service with [Big Don’s]. They were smashing out hundreds of burgers, and I was just trying to get through thirty or forty Nashville fried tenders. It went okay and sort of evolved from there. The smash burgers got too big for the venues that they were in. Tristan started working on his own shop – Bad Love Burger Co. – and Don was enjoying the pop up vibes, but half of his team were wanting to open a full time store, so he just offered to share the van down at Mane Liquor. We spent three months pre-COVID every Thursday selling chicken burgers and barbeque to punters in Belmont. We’ve just kept on going since then.

Archies Hot Chicken Pop Up

What is it about Southern Fried Chicken that garners such love and attention?

I think it’s the interest in foods that Australia typically hasn’t done well. I’m from the country originally, so whenever we got takeaway it was just whatever was there. But [since moving to Perth] my wife and I have enjoyed eating out. We’ve always had our finger on the pulse in terms of what’s been going on in Perth restaurant-wise. It’s always excited us. I think it was just around that time that Don and Tristan were doing their burger thing – American-style I suppose you could call it. I guess that was the tipping point for the proliferation of American culture in Australia where there was actually recipes, shop ideas, restaurant ideas and even chain ideas popping up around Australia. I just try to do my best – I’m not saying I’m necessarily the best or the worst – I just like to make food that I enjoy eating and I just hope people enjoy what I’m offering.

Anyone who’s tried it knows of its lethality. Can you tell us about the origins of the Carolina Reaper ‘Fk You Hot Blend?’

I just wanted a Hot One, you know? I went through something like 15 and 20 recipes for all the varying forms. Because once you go from making one or two burgers in a home kitchen to 150 to 200 you need make sure everything is scalable. Reapers were really hard to get a hold off, so I found a bunch of suppliers and just started chipping away at it. I certainly had to put myself through a good three months of pain to try and get the recipe to a point where I could enjoy the flavours, but not too hot to where it wasn’t tasty.

In some ways there’s this vein of sadism amongst Nashville chefs where they enjoy inflicting pain on others. But then those same people are enjoying hurting themselves on your food? I probably sound like a complete weirdo saying that, but I’ve seen a lot of people making that parallel with Nashville chicken.

Don actually named the blend. He was running the till at Smash Burger’s and someone came up to him and said ‘fk me that was hot.’ Don just fires back ‘fk me? Fk you.’ It just sort of stuck.

Archies Hot Chicken Pop Up

After doing pop-ups with Besk and North Bird, are there any plans for a permanent residence?

I did a fair bit exploring last year in terms of leases and pricing of opening a pop up store and I realised that unless I won the lottery or a rich dude wants to give me cash, staying mobile will continue to be the way to go. I’m wanting to scale it. That’s the hardest thing for me with service. Every time you’re in a pop up environment there so many restrictions and health regulations that are constantly closing down your ability to make food quickly. Not saying I’m putting raw chicken on the ground, but the act of getting enough equipment together so that you can be highly productive is time consuming, and you’re spending the rest of your time just trying to make sure that the stuff that you are carrying around isn’t non-compliant.

The way the councils manage mobile food permits – every council has their own application process. Even if I’m just serving out of a marquee, I have to tell another suburb that I’m going to be doing prep in their suburb and then the council has to talk to both my registered suburb and the suburb I’m going to be operating in. Just so they can all agree on the format. It makes being mobile painful, but the flip side is being cashed up enough to open a restaurant.

Where should people start if they’re looking to start experimenting with making Nashville Hot Chicken at home? Any tips or tricks?

There’s an absolute plethora of information on YouTube. That’s basically where I started. That way you can see the act of putting [the dish] together and sometimes that’s all it takes to get you going. Chef John’s recipe for Nashville Fried Chicken its very close to where I started in formulating my first recipe.

It’s certainly grown from there based on what I prefer to eat and textural differences. But you know, he’s doing it for a YouTube channel and I’m doing it to feed a 150-200 people all at once, but he was certainly the starting point. The spot to go for the spices is Spice Wagon at Coventry’s in Morley. [The owner] has always been really helpful. You can get a bunch of varying spices and chillies from him. That’s a great place to start.

Archies Hot Chicken Pop Up

What excites you the most about the future with Archies Hot Chicken?

Probably a change to the mobile food licensing system in Western Australia. That’s something I’ve heard rumours about and it would totally change my life. Not just mine, but hundreds of West Australians. You know what, probably for everyone in WA to be honest. Then it would be a level playing field for all food businesses to operate in a way where they aren’t disrupting cash paying businesses in the suburbs, and not so tied up in all the paperwork that makes these events difficult to exist. I think you’d find that if it all operated on a centralised system that it would run a lot smoother and there would be less of the information to learn between councils that makes it confusing. It would just be one single message for all food businesses to follow. At the moment, the whole process it just demoralising. You see all these vibrant street food cultures around the world like in Bangkok and South America. There just doesn’t seem to be any encouragement for it here. It just seems like a burden for these councils that they don’t want to see the culture grow and flourish. I’d just love to see more people out experimenting and playing with their favourite recipes and sharing them with others. That would be a dream come true.

You can catch Archie’s Hot Chicken at the upcoming Mane Liquor: Car Park Party on October 29, and follow Archies Chicken on INSTAGRAM for future pop up action.

Image Credits: Archies Hot Chicken