Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Our Chef’s Perfect, Farm-Fresh, Candy Chicken
Candy Chicken by Alex Shephard, Esalen’s Executive Chef, as served on a Saturday night at the Lodge
Photo credit: Reya Borbridge, Lead Cook

Once upon a time, our executive chef, Alex Shepherd, had the dream job of working under a master chef… at a country club. “I asked the chef what his favorite meal was, thinking he was going to tell me something elegant like fois gras or something,” said Shepherd. “But, I was pleasantly surprised when he said roasted chicken is his favorite meal.”

Years afterward, and many attempts later, Shepherd had concocted the perfect roasted chicken recipe. “Turns out, the simpler the technique, the more difficult it is to execute it perfectly. And it was all thanks to the brine! Brined chicken adds such a depth of flavour that chicken, especially the breast meat, needs!” said Shepherd. 

Brining seemed so simple in pursuit of a perfect chicken, but Chef Shepherd’s attention to detail and commitment to improving his technique is rewarded even today. He experiences delicious reactions in the Lodge when it’s Candy Chicken night on Saturdays. 

“People here love this dish. Even the kitchen team gets excited when it's Saturday! It's a joy to get the thanks and gratitude from everyone that we greet in the line, from staff members to guests.”

Esalen’s chickens come from Fogline Farms, locally-owned by Caleb Barron, who delivers on Thursdays, in time for the preparation for perfection. Keeping with the idea of community, Shepherd found this farm through Chef Nick Balla from Coast, just up Highway 1.

Have you ever spent years trying to perfect something? Thanks to Chef Shepherd, at least the perfect, roasted chicken will no longer elude you (and he even gave us a non-dairy tip as a bonus). 


Candy Chicken

Prep time: 24 hours to brine, approximately 45 minutes baking time
Yield: 1 chicken
Serves: 4–6


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 lbs butter
  • 4 bunches lemon verbena
  • 4 qts water
  • 1.5 lbs salt
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns (optional)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 bunches thyme
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 2 cups honey


Step One: Brining
(24 hours before baking the chicken; use a large container of ice, such as a cooler)

  1. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a 5 quart pot.
  2. Make sure salt and sugar are completely dissolved to bring out the flavor.
  3. Pour the hot brine liquid into the ice container until the container is halfway full.
  4. Let sit until fully chilled.
  5. Put the chicken into the container upside down (breast down).
  6. Scoop the brine liquids over the chicken until fully submerged, then let sit for 24 hours.

Step Two: Make the Clarified Butter

  1. Put two pounds of butter in a pan.
  2. Slowly heat until butter turns to liquid.
  3. Continue to heat up until milk solids separate from butter (white stuff on the top).
  4. Skim milk solids off then strain.
  5. Steep lemon verbena for an hour in the butter.

Extra tip: You can substitute olive oil for the butter, and if there is no lemon verbena available, substitute lemon zest.

Step Three: Bake the Chicken

  1. Pull chicken out of the brining container. 
  2. Let it rest on a sheet tray with a rack, then pat dry with dish towels or lightly with paper towels.  
  3. Brush with lemon verbena clarified butter. 
  4. Roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then rotate. 
  5. Increase oven temperature to 410 degrees. 
  6. Bake chicken until the internal temperature is at 155 degrees (approximately 15 minutes), ensuring that the bird is done by using a thermometer in the breast section.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Esalen Team