Rachel Louise Martin, PhD is the author of Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story. Her essays have appeared in O Magazine, the Atlantic online, Oxford American and CityLab.
"How Hot Chicken Really Happened" was included in Cornbread Nation 2015: The Best of Southern Food Writing. She has been featured on the BBC's Food Chain, KCRW's Good Food and the Michelle Meow Show.
She did her graduate work in history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While there, she worked for the Southern Oral History Program, a division of the Center for the Study of the American South.
And as a writer with a PhD in history, she is also an experienced hospitality staff member. She has worked in both chef-driven and corporate environments as a lead server, captain and closing manager.
But that doesn't explain why she does the work she does: Rachel Martin did not go to graduate school to be a professor. She went because she was a researcher and a storyteller. She believes in the power of true stories to help us find new, creative solutions to the problems facing us today.
Click here to learn more about her work as an oral historian.
These days, hot chicken is a "must-try" Southern food. Restaurants in New York, Detroit, Cambridge, and even Australia advertise that they fry their chicken "Nashville-style." Thousands of people attend the Music City Hot Chicken Festival each year. The James Beard Foundation has given Prince's Chicken Shack an American Classic Award for inventing the dish.
But for almost seventy years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville's Black neighborhoods--and the story of hot chicken says something powerful about race relations in Nashville, especially as the city tries to figure out what it will be in the future.
Hot, Hot Chicken recounts the history of Nashville's Black communities through the story of its hot chicken scene from the Civil War, when Nashville became a segregated city, through the tornado that ripped through North Nashville in March 2020.
"Focusing on a single dish and the branches of the Prince family who created it, Rachel Louise Martin uses Nashville's signature, world-famous hot chicken to guide us through the history of a quintessential southern American town. This book serves as a comprehensive guide to a great city and to the people who were positively influenced by the very African American culture it sought, so often, to undermine. The delicacy of hot chicken is a thread between two cultures and gives historical perspective to this culinary craze."
—Carla Hall, chef and author of Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration
“Nashville hot chicken is what best represents the soul of the city, and Rachel Martin describes its storied history. With a crunchy, spicy exterior, and a warm, melting center, it embodies what Nashville is all about.”
—Maneet Chauhan, James Beard Award–winning chef, TV personality, restaurateur, and author of Chaat
“Historically, when we have heard about chicken and African American communities, it is from the perspective of stereotypes and offenses. Rachel Louise Martin has joined the voices that are turning the tide on recognizing the many contributions made by African Americans to cooking ‘the gospel bird.’ From their migration to Nashville to the present, Martin has shared the story of the Prince family and their place in history as the primary creators of the hot chicken phenomena. This is exciting reading filled with nuggets of African American histories of food, taste, labor, economics, race, gender, place, region, community, and so much more. It is at the same time a gastronomic study, memoir, and illumination of perseverance as much as it is about the ways culinary landscapes can be contentious and even triumphant. It can and should be taught in courses on entrepreneurship, labor, storytelling, material culture, and regionalism, among so many others. And, it absolutely is a food history that should be read by all!”
—Psyche Williams-Forson, author of Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power