Le Coq Rico: philosopher in the kitchen
Le Coq Rico, which opened a few months ago in the Flatiron district, has an absolutely unique menu. The chef basically serves farm-style eggs and poultry, accompanied by fresh organic salads and vegetables. The cocktails are delicious, the wine selection judicious and the staff friendly. It’s a feel-good place, it’s great, and you leave wanting to come back very soon. LUXE talked to its chef, Antoine Westermann.
HOW DID A CHEF WITH THREE MICHELIN STARS, A MASTER OF ALSATIAN CUISINE, DECIDE TO GIVE UP HIS STARS FOR NEW CULINARY ADVENTURES FAR FROM HOME?
Cuisine is perpetually in motion, and like any other professional practice, or any other passion, it keeps changing. After being awarded three stars you want to go farther and explore new culinary territories as well as new terroirs. I like New York. If I hadn’t become a cook I would have been an architect, so this city is a paradise for me.
YOUR LOVE FOR POULTRY SHOWS THROUGHOUT THE CONCEPT FOR LE COQ RICO. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS PASSION?
I like to cook poultry. One of my long-time favorite dishes is poulette en baeckeoffe, cooked using a very local method. It has various textures, white meat, wings, thighs, drumsticks… And it’s flavored by the terroir and by what the hen has eaten. It has an elegant flavor and the juices are just right. It’s a festive dish, made to be shared, and I like that about it. But I also appreciate the animal, and I want it to have a good life and live as long as possible in the true farming tradition. At Le Coq Rico, we work hand in hand with the farmers. We want to respect the animal we’re eating. When an animal has had a good life, its flesh tells us so.
THERE’S A RARE INTEGRITY IN THIS IDEA OF SERVING WHOLE FOWL. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THIS CHOICE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES ON THE CULINARY EXPERIENCE YOU PROVIDE?
In my opinion, sharing is integral to the pleasures of the table. Always in a festive spirit, poultry (ducks, geese, roosters, chickens, guinea fowl, hens, turkeys) are to be shared among several people. I can’t speak about the culinary experience. I know what I offer them, but the response is what the customers make it. What I can say, is that I’ve always liked to focus on the product and to build around it. For me, Le Coq Rico is again the idea that the product is king, that we are paying homage to the fowl by celebrating it and thanking it for giving up its life to us. Chef Antoine Westermann
LE COQ RICO, WHICH ALREADY HAD A LOCATION IN PARIS, JUST OPENED IN NEW YORK AND SERVES LOCAL PRODUCTS. WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR ENCOUNTER WITH AMERICAN TERROIR AND CUISINE?
Farmers are extraordinary, they’re open, they like it when you respect their work and their animals. A good farmer, even though he kills the animal, respects it and takes care of it. If he knows that it will be treated properly on the plate and will be in the place of honor, he gets involved and he’s happy. I have close, friendly relationships with the farmers I do business with. We see the animal the same way.
COULD YOU EXPLAIN TO US HOW YOU DEFINE YOUR PHILOSOPHY, “IN MY KITCHEN, I’M NOT TRYING TO DAZZLE ANYONE, JUST TO BRING OUT EMOTIONS”?
For emotion to exist, there has to be communion and trust between us. I opt for simplicity, obviousness and showcasing what I love: the product. Sharing is also an emotion, so going to a restaurant and sharing a fowl among friends can be an emotional moment.
Text: Barbara Stehle