Matt Smith is a first-class chef. He owns his own catering company, has cooked for elite athletes and rock stars, and credits his mother for leading him in that direction.

He has copied his mother’s recipes, especially the one for fried chicken. But even someone with his experience can’t quite duplicate it exactly.

“For whatever reason,” he said with a sigh, “I can’t get that extra ‘mom ingredient’ in there.”

Paddy Smith McNichol, 85, died due to COVID-19 complications on Friday, May 15. She lived her final years at Preferred Care in Absecon, N.J., after raising five children in Montgomery County.

She was Paddy Long and living in Roanoke, Va., when she met John Smith, an insurance agent for GEICO who grew up at 25th Street and Allegheny Avenue.

She put her nursing degree from Roanoke College in her back pocket, married him in 1958, and eventually settled down in Penn Wynne, where she oversaw a wonderfully melodic household.

“There was always music playing,” said daughter Dolores, the first of five children. “We’d all rather listen to music than watch TV, and I attribute that to her. My kids are the same way.”

Mrs. McNichol didn’t just enjoy Elvis and Neil Diamond, she sang in the choir at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary church in Penn Wynne.

Once the kids were raised, Mrs. McNichol went back to nursing, most notably at Haverford Nursing & Rehab. She used to say, “You never stop being a nurse."

Mrs. McNichol's family plans to have a dinner to celebrate her life at which they expect plenty of laughter, a few tears and lots of music.
COURTESY / Kristian Smith
Mrs. McNichol's family plans to have a dinner to celebrate her life at which they expect plenty of laughter, a few tears and lots of music.

In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. McNichol is survived by sons Daniel, John, and Tony, and seven grandchildren. She was predeceased by her first husband and second husband Harry McNichol, whom she married in 1994.

The family plans to sprinkle her ashes in the mountains near Roanoke. But first, they’re going to gather for a gigantic family dinner at which they expect plenty of laughter, a few tears, and music. Definitely music.

“She’s the reason why I love life and fun, because she created an environment where nonsense could thrive, and we’re all better for it,” said Matt, whose company name of Grateful Spread is a nod to both food and music.“

“She was my best friend for many years,” he said. "She was an amazing, warm, and giving woman, and a wonderful cook.”

Paddy’s Famous Fried Chicken

Ingredients

1 3-pound chicken cut into 8 pieces; 2 cups buttermilk; 1 teaspoon and 2 teaspoons of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt; 1 tablespoon black pepper; 2 cups self-rising flour; 2 cups Crisco or lard

Recipe

1) Marinate chicken overnight in 2 cups of buttermilk and 1 teaspoon of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. 2) Drain but do not rinse the chicken. 3) Dredge chicken in 2 cups of flour mixed with 1 tablespoon black pepper and 2 teaspoons of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. 4) Fry chicken in batches in 2 cups Crisco in cast iron skillet heated to 325 degrees. When oil is hot, fry chicken 12 to 15 minutes on one side, turn over and cook 10 to 12 minutes or until GBD (Golden Brown Delicious!) and internal temperature is 165 degrees. 5) Remove from pan to drain on paper bag and enjoy.

Ed Barkowitz, ebarkowitz@inquirer.com