by Paul Hechinger
Cheap London grub isn’t limited to fish ‘n’ chip shops, curries and kebabs, pub dishes, and international fast-food chains. Guest-blogger Paul Hechinger looks into the finger-lickin’ phenomenon of British fried chicken. – KW
Chicken: Low Art, High Calorie is the result of an obsession that led graphic designer Siaron Hughes to photograph and document the explosion of fried chicken restaurants around London over the past two decades or so.
Yes, we won the Revolution, and now deep-fryers heard ’round the world are part of our own colonial legacy.
Fried poultry’s unquestionable victory is marked today in England’s capital by bold storefront signs, often in bright red, white, and blue. There’s also lots of yellow – we’re talking chicken after all.
Those loud storefront signs are what initially attracted Hughes to her project and what led her to learn all about the shops and their history.
The invasion seems to have originally been led by that brilliant Kentucky military strategist Colonel Sanders himself, who proved that fried chicken was a worthy opponent of fish ‘n’ chips. Soon others joined the battle, capitalizing on KFC’s success, while adding Asian or Caribbean influence and spices. As a result, London has seen scores of restaurants with names like Dallas Fried Chicken (DFC), Orlando Fried Chicken (OFC), and Halal Fried Chicken (HFC). My personal favorite – I bet you can guess why – is FCKF, or Fried Chicken, Kebab, and Fish.
“Everywhere I went,” writes Hughes, “I was amusingly overwhelmed by the extravaganza of gaudy bright backgrounds ornamented with floating bits of fried chicken.” The signs do exactly what they’re meant to do: grab people’s attention. But, as an artist, Hughes became fascinated by their garish directness: “These vernacular designs, mostly done by the untrained eyes of the shopkeepers, break every rule of typography.”
And Hughes meets and interviews the man who claims to be responsible for designing more than ninety percent of the restaurant signs for those shopkeepers. His name is Morris Cassanova, but to people in the business he’s known simply as “Mr. Chicken.”
While he may not adhere to art school typography rules, Mr. Chicken says he knows what works. Getting people to think the food is American works. Making it spicier than American fried chicken works. One thing that doesn’t really work: British Fried Chicken (or, I suppose, BFC?). “You hardly ever see,” says Mr. Chicken, “a sign saying English Fried Chicken, or with an English name, or anything like that.”