The Story of the Chicken and Dumplings

It was the summer of 1960 when my parents took me & my sisters from our home in Toledo, Ohio to visit my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Wells in Kentucky. At that time the rural town of Denniston, Kentucky boasted a population of just under 100 (today a bustling 235!). The only store in town was also the Post Office and was a brisk walk from Grandma Wells’ small farmhouse.

On the morning of the second day of our visit Grandma Wells asked me to help her prepare that evening’s dinner. Being an energetic yet polite 5-year-old I obliged… after just a few more minutes of chasing my sisters around the yard with a newly discovered and fascinating crawdad!

The 1st order of business was to get the groceries for the evening’s menu which was to be: Chicken n’ Dumplings, Slaw, and Country Green Beans. I was used to going to the grocery store with my Mom, and we’d purchased many packages of chicken before… however, I was completely unprepared for the culinary adventure that was about to unfold. We arrived at the General Store and Grandma Wells asked the Postmaster / Grocer for some bacon & a ‘Big Fat Hen’. Moments later… with wide eyes and my arms full of a very alive… wings-a-flappin’ 6 pound hen… we walked back home!

I don’t remember how much ‘help’ I was that day preparing dinner. I do, however, remember vividly the wonderful smells that filled the farmhouse… only to be eclipsed by the remarkable flavors of every bite I took. Even as I write these recollections almost 5 decades later my mouth is watering remembering the tastes of Grandma Wells’ perfect creations. Succulent & tender chicken, amazingly slippery dumplings cooked in the bubbling broth that somehow turned into miraculous gravy… tangy cabbage slaw with cider vinegar… and fresh green beans w/ bacon in a warm sweet & sour dressing.

That day in 1960 was not only the most meaningful & memorable culinary experience of my life… it was also the day I was first challenged by the creative process. It was a lesson which ultimately shaped how I approach anything I’ve ever accomplished … as a musician, a teacher, a husband, a father, and as a chef. That even simple things can become extraordinary creations when handled with passion, sincerity, and creativity.

Eventually Grandma Wells came to live with us after we had moved to New Jersey. Throughout my teen years I had her make that same meal many times (minus the live hen!) and still enjoyed every bite. She inspired me to learn how to cook & create dishes that people enjoy, remember, and request.    

 -  Chef Robert Seibert

"I do, however, remember vividly
the wonderful smells that filled
the farmhouse…
only to be eclipsed by the remarkable flavors of every bite I took."

                  Bobby in Kentucky - circa 1960

         Grandma Elizabeth Wells - circa 1969

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