This Is What Really Makes Queen Mother's Fried Chicken So Delicious - Exclusive

So, what happens after a winner of "Hell's Kitchen" finishes that grand-prize stint as a head chef at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant? How do they continue to bequeath their culinary gifts upon the world? For Season 3 winner Rock Harper, the answer was to elevate a popular comfort food staple: fried chicken. In the years that have passed since his 2007 win, Harper opened Queen Mother's Fried Chicken, which serves fried chicken sandwiches that have earned stellar reviews, inspiring one Southern Grit reviewer to remark, "I've consumed hundreds or perhaps thousands of chicken sandwiches in my lifetime, and this is by far my absolute favorite."

If you've never eaten what you'd consider "bad" fried chicken — let's be honest, even your typical fast food poultry is pretty craveworthy — maybe you're wondering what makes Harper's breaded birds so droolworthy? It all comes down to technique. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Harper explained what separates his dishes from what you'd get from your typical drive-thru. "I'm a chef. I'm a chef-chef!" he explained. "So we just execute the same way we would at a fine dining restaurant." That means getting everything right, Harper added. "You have to fry at the right temperature. We fry in duck fat, which is premium fat and it makes the chicken taste way better." The breading matters, too, according to Harper. "We use a little bit of rice flour in our mix. So what that does — this is another secret, exclusive right here on Mashed — we use the rice flour because rice flour is lighter, crispier, not a surprise — but also, it absorbs less oil," he explained. "The result is fried chicken that's juicy and not heavy."

Why Rock Harper opened a fried chicken restaurant

Maybe you're wondering whether the world actually needs another fried chicken restaurant — depending upon where you live, you likely can take your pick among KFC, Chick-fil-A, Bojangles, Raising Cane's, and others. But there are many differences between these drive-thru favorites and Queen Mother's Fried Chicken, Harper pointed out. "Queen Mother's is the first high-end chicken sandwich restaurant that I'm aware of in the country," he explained. "So you have burger restaurants that are fast food, you have mid-tier, and then you have these top-tier burger restaurants that use non-GMO and organic and all this stuff. Before Queen Mother's, it didn't exist. So I think there's a market for it and people want it, it just took us to create it."

Queen Mother's Fried Chicken not only is non-GMO; it also differs from fast food because it's additive-free — which comes with a higher price tag, Harper concedes. "I just believe that there's a market for it, and people, when they understand what's in their food, they will pay for it, and they want a different option," he said. Given Harper's passion for what he calls "uninterrupted" or unprocessed food, plus his talent with fried chicken, opening this D.C.-area restaurant seemed like an obvious choice. "I love frying chicken, I think I'm the best at it anywhere, and chicken sandwiches are really hot right now," Harper said. "People love chicken, they always have, but they are having a 'moment,' the past few years ... I even fried chicken on my season finale of 'Hell's Kitchen'! That was one of my signature dishes, so it just made sense. I've been talking about doing this thing for a long time."

Keep up with chef Rock Harper by following him on Instagram. The next time you're in D.C., be sure to visit Queen Mother's Fried Chicken.