In the 1990’s New York’s waterways was less grandiose, than it had been in years prior, but it still had its gems here and there. One such gem, Leonard Thomas, affectionately known as the “Chicken Man'', worked a career that spanned several decades as a bridge tender. When he earned the nickname, Thomas was working as a tender over the Gowanus Canal, where he operated three drawbridges from a Union Street Control Tower. Among the bridges that cross the Gowanus Canal is the Hamilton Avenue Bridge at the border of the nighborhood of Red Hook. At the time, the Gowanus Canal was full of pollution. In fact, by the 90’s, it was widely known as one of the most contaminated waterways in America, complete with high amounts of pathogens, and a low concentration of oxygen. Even today, in light of clean up projects that began in 2013, it’s not a place you want to swim in. In the 90’s when Thomas worked as a tender, pollution wasn’t the only symptom of a seemingly abandoned waterway. In fact, “with the decline of New York City's waterways for both commercial and recreational boat traffic over the last three decades -- crumbling piers, silt-clogged basins, shuttered boat clubs” were apparent, and Thomas' job was “not what it used to be” (Kennedy). After acting as a tender for over twenty two years, Thomas decided to pursue his dream, cooking, more specifically, cooking chicken. In 1992, Thomas started his own catering business, which eventually became known as Chicken Man, after the nickname. While he spent his weekends keeping up with orders, Thomas spent his weekdays working as a tender, and thinking up new recipes. When Thomas worked his shifts, and brought in his stuffed chicken in for lunch, the aroma dominated the foul smell of the water. In 1998, true to his word from Randy Kennedy’s 1996 NYT article, Thomas published his cookbook, “Cooking with the Chicken Man”, and you can find the link to that below.
See below for the link to a New York Times article from 1996 telling Thomas's story, as well as for a link to the cookbook he published in 1998, "Cooking with the Chicken Man."