Holly Laham brings the heat

Story and photo by Hollie Grace James – 

Holly Laham believes the art of deep frying has been tragically lost. That’s why, when Holland’s Cake and Shake closed its doors and she had to move on from her job as pastry chef, she was ready to give an old homestyle recipe the spotlight. Having developed a Nashville-esque rub for deep-fried cauliflower in her home kitchen, and winning over the stomach of one devoted customer in her boyfriend, she thought, why not spread the love?

The main attraction is the chicken of course – Nashville is a term that refers to the type, meaning it’s flavoured with a sizzling hot sauce and spice blend. Legend has it that, over 70 years ago, a man named Thornton Prince returned to his Nashville home after a night out. His girlfriend was fed up with him and decided to set him straight by loading his beloved fried chicken with as many hot spices as she could find. As she patiently waited for him to explode, she slowly came to the realization that he actually loved it.

Holly Laham is on a crusade to prove that the art of deep-frying is alive and well. Photo by Hollie Grace James

Holly certainly doesn’t want customers to explode, but she does want them to come back, so she came up with a six-spice blend that isn’t quite a sauce, nor is it a rub. Her concoction is more like a spicy oil, although it still remains dry, which is another feature particular to the Nashville style. She offers a small menu of five different chicken sandwiches (extra hot, Holly’s hot, honey hot, honey garlic, and plain Jane) and a vegetarian option (the OG fried cauliflower). They all contain iceberg lettuce and depending on the sandwich, you might find some homemade condiments (think bread and butter pickles, pickled red onion, cucumber) and the house ranch sauce. It doesn’t stop there. She’s recently added a side order of macaroni and cheese to the menu and she’s capitalizing on her Cordon Bleu knowledge of patisserie with desserts such as deep-fried raspberry cheesecake, s’mores chocolate mousse, and beer-battered brownies.

Holly’s crusade to prove that deep-frying doesn’t deserve the bad rap it’s been given has had her popping up around the city since April. After a series of appearances at Dominion City, Bicycle Craft Brewery, and Buchipop Kombucha (where her sandwiches were paired with kombucha slushies), she’s now taking over the kitchen at Bar Lupulus (1242 Wellington St. W.) on Fridays and Saturdays between 10:30 p.m. and 1 a,m, for a more permanent installation. This isn’t the only place you can find her in Kitchissippi: she also recently added Meat Press (45 Armstrong St.) to her repertoire. Find her there on Sundays between noon and 3 p.m.

Although Nashville hot chicken is trending in NYC and Toronto, Holly is the first to bring it here to Ottawa. With so much history surrounding this cuisine, it’s an exciting addition to our prospering foodie scene. Rooted in the African-American communities around Nashville, 70 years later, a mixture of passion, talent, and community have ignited a growing interest in this crispy, crunchy dish. 


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