November 10, 2011 -
They say "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!"
Could I take the heat as a restaurant owner in Cairo, Georgia gave me the deep-fried challenge,"Art, do my job!"
How many restaurant owners do you know who can drive a school bus as well as they can fry a fritter?
Meet Audrey Hawthorne, a woman who really has three jobs, but challenged me to just one. Could I keep up?
"So this is what it's like to cook in Audrey's Kuntry Kitchen?"
Audrey's run this place for 12 years and she wasn't shy about putting me right to work on the fried chicken.
"Pop 'em together? Is that enough?..Good, throw it in."
" You can't cook good fried chicken without messing up something!"
I was pretty much in the way back there, but one guy who's right at
"home on the range" is Craig Montgomery.
Says Craig, "I Love to Cook and Eat Fried Chicken!"
Next up for me? Fritters- sort of a cornbread pancake.
"Nothin' to it, " says Audrey.
Audrey learned her love of cooking from her father.
" My dad was a cook in the army. We always cooked. Mama never cooked."
Time to check on the fritters. I almost scorched 'em! And what about that chicken?
Audrey's rule: if it floats, it's ready!
This job is intense. I think I need a rest.
"Art Myers, what are you doin'? "I'm just taking a break you got to pace yourself on this job! Yeah, but you gotta come fry chicken in a hurry, we're out of chicken! Yes Ma'am, I'm coming. I'm coming!"
Audrey stays on task. She has to, what with cooking, driving the bus and being a farmer's wife.
Berl Hawthorne is Audrey's Husband.
Berl says "We've been married 41 years. She's always been there for me."
Berl says at first he thought the restaurant was a bad idea- too much work for her. It's turned out great, but it did have a rocky start.
They tried to open one Friday night and a huge crowd flooded the place with a line outside.
Berl says Audrey just panicked and bolted the door shut.
" She went into hysterics and locked the front door after an hour of being open.. just couldn't handle it."
Things are well under control now, but that's the last time they opened at night.
Waitress Samantha Owens loves working here but says Audrey can have an entertaining meltdown occasionally.
"She gets stressed out with people...she's like Ugh!" It's really funny!"
But the people- especially the elderly- are what keep Audrey serving up that noon buffet Sunday through Friday.
Customer Gayle Cox says " Audrey is always very personable and friendly. She always thanks her customers."
So how did Audrey's newest employee do on that chicken?
On a scale from 1- 100 she said my chicken was... " 99.99. She loves me!"
The cooking for the noon rush is done, but it's no time to relax for Audrey..she'll soon have to warm up that school bus parked out back. And as those kids get on board they just might catch the lingering, tantalizing aroma of fresh fried chicken!