The obsession started years ago after a challenge from his wife: Could finance manager Ron Douglas, an avid cook and Kentucky Fried Chicken fan, really crack the code to the best-kept culinary secret in the country? After several attempts, the Long Island, N.Y., man says he may know the 11 herbs and spices in KFC’s recipe — and now he's sharing the secret with the world.
Douglas, 34, began his quest by searching the Internet for clues to the recipe. He found that there were thousands of people looking for directions to help them duplicate their favorite restaurant meals at home. In answer to their prayers, he started the Web site recipesecrets.net.
While the KFC recipe continued to elude him (despite his attempt to snag the information by bribing one of the restaurant’s cooks), Douglas was able to copy recipes from other chains — sometimes through questionable tactics.
"I'd usually go to the restaurant and get takeout so I could try to decode the meals at home," he said. "Other times, I'd tell the waitress that my wife had severe food allergies and that I needed to know the ingredients in the dish. Sometimes, I'd get a full list right there!"
Douglas' site quickly became hot, with copycat recipes from such popular restaurants as Applebee's, IHOP, Macaroni Grill, The Cheesecake Factory and, of course, KFC. After selling 50,000 of his self-published cookbooks, Douglas decided to leave his job at JPMorgan so he could concentrate on the site full time. He even hired two part-time chefs to help him break down recipes.
"I wanted to be able to do what I loved," said Douglas, who has a daughter, 5, and a son, 2. "But the biggest motivation to quit was that I wanted to be with my daughter to enjoy her childhood. Spending time with my kids is the best part."
Those 11 herbs and spices
The decision has so far paid off: Douglas scored a deal with Simon & Schuster, which published his "America's Most Wanted Recipes" earlier this month. The book includes a recipe for KFC's 11 herbs and spices — which Douglas says he discovered after six attempts.
"The exact recipe has never been released," Douglas admitted, "but mine comes really, really close. I kept trying, and with the help of the online community, we figured out a recipe that's so good most people can't tell the difference."
But Douglas shouldn't get cocky, says KFC.
Besides the KFC recipe, Douglas says his favorite duplicate dishes include Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken and The Cheesecake Factory's Oreo Cheesecake.
Douglas says he hasn't heard from any angry restaurant executives, and he doesn’t expect that he will.
"The recipes are my own — I use the names as a reference point so people know what they're eating," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'm not taking away business from these big chains."
Besides, Douglas adds, he's just helping people out in these tough times.
"I think the recession has really been good for me," he said. "People want to eat these delicious meals without spending all the money. The demand is huge, and maybe this will lead to a cooking show. Now the sky's the limit."
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints