Published November 10, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Paula Deen, step aside. Colonel Harland Sanders is about to teach America "real old-time country and farm cooking before it's forgotten."
Yes, Colonel Sanders.
On yellowed pages hidden for decades, the white-jacketed man with a special fried chicken recipe and a vision that helped create the modern fast-food industry reveals he saw a future in another lucrative market — celebrity food books.
The recent discovery of an unpublished manuscript written by the founder of KFC shows that while Sanders was helping build Kentucky Fried Chicken into a global brand, he was recording his life and love of food — and recipes — for the world.
No, not THAT recipe.
Sanders' secret mix of 11 herbs and spices remains locked inside the company's vault.
But the manuscript from the mid-1960s, found recently by an employee rummaging through KFC's archives, again shows that the man who started the world's most popular chicken chain from a Social Security check and his secret recipe was a man before his time.
"This is a new kind of book," Sanders wrote in the first chapter of an approximately 200-page, typewritten manuscript that KFC plans to offer up on the Internet. "There's never been another written like it as far as I know.
"It's the story of a man's life and the story of the food he's cooked and eaten, running right along with it."
The half-inch-thick document is chock full of homespun anecdotes and life lessons from Sanders, who struck it rich late in life. It also includes a heaping helping of his favorite personal recipes.
"To me, my recipes are priceless," he wrote.
You can say that again.
The secret blend of herbs and spices, one of the most enduring corporate secrets in American food folklore, isn't revealed in the manuscript, KFC executives say.
But the Colonel proved he was more than a chicken man. On these pages are preserved his personal recipes for omelets, pancakes, casseroles, pies and many more dishes that he said reflected his affinity for "real old-time country and farm cooking." It's a veritable smorgasbord of main dishes, side dishes, desserts and sauces.
And the man who built the KFC chain by cooking up batches of chicken for prospective franchisees promised to offer insights into his culinary style: "I'll be telling you how to prepare it like a man who's talking to you right over your kitchen stove," he wrote.
The company is treating the manuscript like its own Holy Grail. The manuscript is tucked inside KFC's electronic safe in a vault at its Louisville headquarters. It sits next to the Colonel's famous handwritten chicken recipe.
His philosophy on life and cooking spring to life from the pages, 31 years after his death at age 90 in 1980.
"We can't wait to share its secrets with KFC fans around the globe," said Roger Eaton, the restaurant chain's CEO. "Colonel Sanders was a lifelong cook and sage and his life lessons are just as powerful and relevant today as they were 40 years ago."
The company plans to publish the manuscript online, probably sometime next year, said Laurie Schalow, a spokeswoman for Yum Brands Inc., the parent of KFC. The Colonel's insights on hard work and giving it your best will be available for free, she said.
KFC plans to share some of the recipes, but others may stay hidden in the vault.
"We're in the early stages of testing recipes and are excited about the potential to incorporate some of the newly discovered dishes alongside the Colonel's Original Recipe on menus around the globe," Eaton said.
The company says it serves more than 12 million customers daily in 109 countries and territories around the world. It still plasters the Colonel's image on its signs and chicken buckets. The chain has been struggling in the U.S. while its overseas business has been booming,
especially in China, where KFC has become a fast-growing brand.
The company has no idea why the manuscript was never published. Sanders took another crack at an autobiography, titled "Life As I Have Known It Has Been 'Finger Lickin' Good,'" which was published in 1974. But the book didn't include his recipes.
The unpublished manuscript was unearthed recently by Yum Brands employee Amy Sherwood while she was doing research.
"It was in an envelope," she said. "I opened it up and immediately recognized that it was a treasure and a significant discovery."
KFC said it concluded the text was written in 1965 or 1966 through chats with current and former employees who knew or worked with Sanders. Internal documents also validated that he was working on an autobiography with recipes during that period, it said.
In 1964, Sanders sold his interest in the U.S. company for $2 million to a group of investors, but he remained the company's pitchman, becoming one of the world's most recognized faces.
In his manuscript, Sanders offers up lessons on business and life. "I've only had two rules," he wrote. "Do all you can and do it the best you can. It's the only way you ever get that feeling of accomplishing something."
Sanders extolled the virtues of simple, home-style cooking while taking shots at other forms of culinary advice.
"I've read hundreds of cookbooks," he wrote. "For my money they are the bird."
He said just a few of his recipes "are worth more than all the imported recipes, with names an ordinary man or woman can't even pronounce, put together."
"The way I see it, if you've bought this book, you've bought yourself a bargain," Sanders said.