Background: My informant, HT, is currently a student at Vanderbilt University. Interview conducted over FaceTime.
Me: “Tell me about the story behind Nashville hot chicken.”
HT: “Okay. So the story of Nashville hot chicken is that there was like a guy, a husband, who was asking his wife to make him fried chicken. But she found out that he was cheating on her, so she was super pissed. She was like, I’m gonna make his fried chicken but spike it with spicy shit, hot peppers. He eats it and is like yo that’s like straight fire. Nashville has a lot of local hot chicken chains like Hattie B’s. But the real hot chicken is not in the chains.”
Me: “Who did you hear this story from?”
HT: “I heard it from my supervisor at the library who’s a Nashville native.”
Me: Do you think the story is real?
HT: Yeah, I mean it makes sense. Plus I trust my supervisor, especially because they’re a Nashville native. That’s like finding a unicorn here.
Analysis: I think the Nashville Hot Chicken story is the perfect example of a legend with room for multiplicity and variation. It’s an entirely logical and plausible story, but I can also see how it could easily be re-told with infinitely small twists and tweaks that would cater to whichever audience it was being told to. As far as food goes, the scenario is extremely common, similar to the creation of fries (I believe potatoes were unintentionally deep fried to the unexpected delight of the customer), which echoes many of the same themes as this story. The way it was also passed through word of mouth to my informant very much makes it a performance, and not institutionalized, particularly through the prevalence of hot chicken outside of chain restaurants as well.