Through a mouthful of food, hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs delivers his review: “Popeyes has a certain type of fried chicken, nicely golden brown, juicy type of flavor to it.” His YouTube competition between KFC and Popeyes has already been viewed 78,529 times (plus twice more during the creation of this article), and nearly 1,000 viewers have left their own reviews. Couple that with Popeyes’ more than 46,000 fans on Facebook and its 6,000 followers on Twitter, and there’s enough chicken chatter to fill each seat in Chicago’s Soldier Field—twice.
But consumers aren’t the only ones who take their fried chicken seriously. Amy Alarcón, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s director of culinary innovation, has made it her job to ensure the brand is seen within the industry as a legitimate Cajun player.
Her years of experience with Arby’s, Taco Cabana, and Church’s Chicken—“I came through it the hard way of 14- and 16-hour days in the kitchen,” she says—make her an industry veteran and have armed her with the expertise of developing recipes that can be repeated by hundreds of franchisees.
“A lot of people sell fried chicken, but we do something that I think they can’t, which is a very recipe-driven product development process,” she says.
The company’s newfound focus on flavor profiles and Cajun product offerings was thrust to the forefront in the summer of 2008 when the company underwent huge changes. No longer called Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, the fried chicken chain changed its marketing, its logo, and its focus. While some within the industry saw the departure of Billy Jacob, the company’s long-time director of culinary development and genuine Cajun chef, confusing, Alarcón’s move into the brand’s product development driver’s seat brought the launches of the Popeyes Shrimp Tackle Box, Big Easy Bowl, and Loaded Chicken Wrap.
“It’s not that I have guardrails or a certain box that I have to play in, but I have at my disposal probably the most dominant and greatest food history of American regional cuisine,” she says of her laser-like focus on Cajun culinary.