By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
In a world of flashy hotshot chefs, Margaret Miller is Bowling Green’s version of a comfort food celebrity in the kitchen. Customers used to flock to Kaufman’s restaurants for her mouth-watering family style chicken – which gained the name “Margaret’s Chicken.”
Retired for 15 years now, Miller and her famous chicken will make a return next week at Sunset Bistro, 1220 W. Wooster St.
Prudy Brott, owner of Sunset Bistro, came up with the idea to invite Miller to serve up her chicken when she noticed the retired cook eating in her restaurant.
“When I figured out who she was, I was so excited that she liked coming here,” Brott said.
So the young restaurant owner and the retired cook started talking.
“I remember Margaret’s chicken from when I was a kid,” Brott said. “I remember it was a really big deal.”
Miller made the baked chicken every Tuesday night at Kaufman’s downtown, and every Thursday night at Kaufman’s at the Lodge. The meal would pack the restaurants.
So Brott cooked up an idea.
“I wanted to revive a night of Margaret’s chicken,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a walk down memory lane for Bowling Green.”
And it appears many people have not forgotten Margaret and her chicken.
Since the news has gotten out, Sunset Bistro is getting calls from many Bowling Green residents making reservations to get another taste of the baked chicken.
At age 84, Miller will be supervising the cooks at Sunset Bistro.
“We’ll be doing it exactly the way Margaret wants to,” Brott said.
The meal will be served all-you-can-eat family style, and include the chicken, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and Margaret’s coleslaw recipe.
Miller did have some stipulations she needed in order to cook up her chicken. First, the chicken has to come from Belleville Brothers meat market. Miller has tried other chicken, and it just won’t do, she said.
There will be no skimping on butter. “I like to use at least a full pound of butter,” she said. After that, margarine can be supplemented.
The gravy has to be just so. “That’s from the drippings of the chicken,” Miller said.
And the creme de tartar is a vital ingredient for keeping the chicken crispy.
“A lot of people thought it was fried, it was so crispy,” Brott recalled.
Brott said her kitchen staff is excited about working with Miller.
“They’re determined to make Margaret proud, and about bringing back the nostalgia of Margaret’s chicken,” Brott said.
“They are counting on you to tell them if they are doing anything wrong,” Brott said to Miller.
“Oh, I will,” Miller said with a big grin.
Miller, who now lives at Bowling Green Manor, is more comfortable with the title cook than chef. And though she has been retired from the business for years, she hasn’t lost her desire to feed folks, and her wry sense of humor.
“I cook anything,” she said. Well, almost. “If they brought me a muskat or raccoon, I probably wouldn’t.”
Miller started her career cooking at the Bowling Green Country Club. She then fed fraternity members at Bowling Green State University. It’s there that her famous baked chicken recipe was born.
“I made this recipe ever since I cooked at the fraternities,” she said with a smile. “That was a fun job. Sometimes, you wanted to kick them in the butt, but it was fun.”
Miller still gets Christmas cards from some former fraternity members, and she still gets stopped on the street by people who remember her mouth-watering chicken.
“We used to pack them in,” Miller said about the family-style chicken nights at Kaufman’s. She would cook up about 700 pieces of chicken at the downtown location, and even more at the lodge, she said.
“I did better in quantity than in small amounts,” Miller confessed.
After cooking so many chicken dinners, Miller usually picks other menu items for herself.
“I’ve done so many chickens in my life, that I’m not one to eat chicken when I go out,” she said.
Expecting a big turnout, Brott has ordered 60 full chickens from Belleville’s. If there are leftovers, no problem.
“We’ll have Margaret’s chicken soup the next day,” Brott said.
And who knows, maybe this walk down memory lane will create a demand for more than one night of Margaret’s famous chicken.
“Aren’t you going to do it every week,” Miller asked with a playful glance toward Brott. “I did it twice a week.”
In recognition of Miller’s return to the kitchen for one night, some people she worked closely with over the years will also be present at Sunset Bistro when her chicken is served. Jamie, Mike and Barb Belleville plan to attend, as well as Tony Kaufman and Pam Herringhaus, who will serve as honorary hosts. Raye Brott, Prudy’s mom who used to bartend at Kaufman’s downtown, will also be on hand.
After getting the kitchen staff started, Miller will be in the dining room to greet new friends and old customers.
“Margaret loved cooking for people,” Brott said. And her customers loved her back. “They adore her.”
Sunset Bistro will also have its full menu and special Lenten menu available on Tuesday. People wanting the chicken dinners should make reservations by calling 419-353-9378. The chicken will be served from 4:30 to 9 p.m., and take-outs will be available.