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For One Fort Worth Chef, Frying Chicken Is As Much A Science As It Is A 'Spiritual Process'

Stephanie Kuo
Keith Hicks is the executive chef at Buttons Restaurant in Fort Worth.

Tucked in between the big box stores of West Fort Worth is a joint called Buttons — where the phones are always ringing and the funk is always playing.


“Buttons was the nickname my grandmother gave me as a kid cause I was cute as a button,” said Executive Chef Keith Hicks with a chuckle. “I guess it was the dimples. I’ve got dimples under this beard.”

Buttons is where soul food and southern comfort food meet, Hicks said. There’s pot roast, shrimp and grits and gumbo. But he said the workhorse is the chicken and waffles — served up with a side of collard greens, sweet potato pomme frites, blueberry cinnamon butter and maple syrup.

So he fries chicken all day, every day.

How Hicks Likes His Chicken

“If I was a chicken, I would be worried here in Texas,” he said.

At Buttons, Hicks likes to keep his fried chicken simple, starting with a classic brine: A little bit of salt, onion powder, garlic powder — and something he calls a “pinch of your mama.”


Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News
The chicken and waffles makes up more than 60 percent of the sales at Buttons, Hicks says.

“A ‘pinch of your mama’ is like those last ingredients that you never get. However your mom would do it, you try to emulate and get there. You’ll just feel it.”

He then dredges the chicken in seasoned flour, with more of that “pinch of your mama.”

Inside the Buttons kitchen, there’s a standard restaurant fryer, and then there’s the new monster fryer that holds 75 pounds of hot oil. Hicks calls it the “Big daddy, fry daddy.”

He fries his chicken in it at 350 degrees, and it usually takes about 10 minutes before the legs and thighs are done cooking. Breasts are ready a little sooner.

Cooking Is About Intuition, Hicks Says

Hicks learned how to cook by watching his mom in the kitchen back in West Virginia.

He was nine years old when he made his first meal: fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News
Chicken cools off after a dip in the restaurant's new 75-pound “Big Daddy” fryer


After leaving the military 20 years ago, he pursued what he calls a degree in “Tastebud-ology.” He describes himself as a journeyman, who learned the tricks of the trade in kitchens all across the country.

While Hicks recognizes good cooking requires a degree of science and technique, he said there’s much more to it.

“For me, it’s more of an intuitive, spiritual process. In other words, if I was a piece of chicken, how would I want to be touched, how would I want to be seasoned?” he said. “And that’s how my process starts. And with that, you go from your memories.”

Hicks said that’sthe soul in soul food — not the measuring cups or the recipes.

“This is food that nana or mom prepared, something to sustain you for the whole day.”

And he said cooking it isn’t hard — but it does take all five senses, a touch of your own magic and a pinch of your mama.