Cookbook takes a look back at the dynamic Popeyes founder and his food

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana is known for delivering food with big, bold flavors. The same goes for the founder of the fried chicken empire, Popeyes, who put spicy chicken, red beans and dirty rice on the national map and whose story is outlined in a new book, Secrets of a Tastemaker: Al Copeland, The Cookbook. “

Copeland’s son, Al Copeland Jr., said he and authors Chris Rose and Kit Wohl attempted to capture the “real life and times of Al Copeland” in the book, which was released last month.

The elder Copeland, who died in 2008, made a name for himself in the business with his restaurantsbut was also known for philanthropic endeavors — including “Secret Santa” missions to thousands of children in metro New Orleans and across the United States extravagant Christmas lights at his home. For a time he even had a successful career in offshore powerboat racing.

“Some people thought he was flashy and flamboyant, and he was,” his son said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But what they didn’t know was that whatever was his was yours too – whether that was a Lamborghini or just welcoming you into his home.” He was a man who enjoyed seeing people happy.”

Copeland built – and eventually lost – the Popeyes’ fried chicken empire. He opened his first restaurant 50 years ago, in 1972, in Arabi, a suburb of New Orleans. The “Love That Chicken” jingle, which is still used in commercials today, premiered in 1980.

The book chronicles Copeland’s boldness in cooking and includes recipes – though not those associated with Popeyes, his son said. Readers can get a glimpse of the type of food Al Copeland uses at Copeland’s, the casual dining restaurant chain he founded in 1983.

The book features dishes served at the Copeland family table, including corn and crab chowder, crawfish bread, ricochet catfish, crawfish aubergine au gratin and CP3 pork tenderloin named after former New Orleans Hornets starguard Chris Paul.

“What runs through the whole book…is the story of the American Dream,” said Copeland Jr. “This book is about a man who didn’t have much, didn’t have much education, and he lived in a world that didn’t give him much opportunity gave.”

By 1989, there were 700 Popeyes franchises in the United States and abroad, and Copeland leveraged those assets Buy the Church’s Fried Chicken chain. This move gave him control of 2,000 chicken restaurants. But that success was short-lived: just over two years later, the combined company had accumulated more than $400 million in debt, and in 1991 Copeland filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for Al Copeland Enterprises.

In May 1992, the bankruptcy court gave Copeland’s creditors complete control of its chicken empire, renamed America’s Favorite Chicken Company. Copeland retained ownership of the Popeyes recipes and the production company that made the condiments, according to the book.

“Although he didn’t run Popeyes, the company couldn’t operate — couldn’t even exist — without him,” the book states. “This verdict reinforced Al’s longstanding belief that he should always have a back door, an alternate plan for change.”

In 2017, Restaurant Brands International Inc. acquired Popeyes.

Liz Williams, Founder of Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, said Copeland was known for being brave in thought and in business.

“He’s done almost more than any other chef to bring the city’s most authentic flavors to people everywhere,” she said. “I see him as an ambassador for New Orleans… because wherever there’s a Popeyes, there’s a chance to get a piece of New Orleans.”

The September book launch helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of Popeyes. Copeland Jr. said the fried chicken franchise started when he was 9, so he had the “chance to experience the whole ride from the poorer times to the exciting times.”

“This project brings back memories for a lifetime and it’s a way of continuing my father’s legacy,” he said.

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