Alsace-born chef Antoine Westermann opened his bistro Le Coq Rico in Manhattan last march. The upscale eatery specializes in poultry, and is taking part in the New York Restaurant Week for the very first time this year. Taking a seat after the frenzied lunch service, the French chef talked to us about his passion for chicken (“a generous, versatile animal boasting elegant textures”) and his commitment to humane farming practices.
France-Amérique: How was Le Coq Rico created?
Antoine Westermann: I began noticing changes in American consumer habits when I was working as a manager of the Café du Parc in Washington D.C. around four years ago. More and more farmers were starting to use alternative, local and humane farming techniques. This philosophy corresponded to my love of high-quality products and my vision of cuisine. I felt the time had come to open my first American restaurant. My old friend Francis Staub [the founder of Staub cocottes] agreed to become my partner, and Le Coq Rico opened its doors in March 2016.
How do you choose your poultry in the United States?
Before I opened the restaurant, my wife and I traveled extensively along the East Coast to meet chicken farmers. We currently source our poultry from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and the Catskill Mountains [north of New York City]. They are all purebreds, such as Delaware, Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White, and all raised free-range for 120 days. [Supermarket poultry are raised for around 40 days, and butcher’s poultry for around 60.] Our chickens are slaughtered in the farm where they were raised, to avoid the stress and injuries caused by transportation. This approach requires time and energy, and implies higher costs, but an increasing number of local farmers are starting to follow suite.
Do these farming methods make a difference to what ends up on the plate?
When it comes to meat, my motto is “the best meat or no meat at all!” For humans and animals alike, what we eat is paramount. When animals are raised and fed in a natural way, their meat is far better. High-quality meat is supposed to do you good, and that’s the idea I am trying to share. In a show of respect for the animal, guests at Le Coq Rico share a chicken together, then take the carcass home with a recipe for stock. As they say, “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed!”
For this year’s Restaurant Week, which dishes would you recommend to people looking to discover Le Coq Rico?
For the starter I would suggest the Devilled Eggs, Tuna Ventrèche and Cabbage Salad with Cumin, which is a nod to my roots in Alsace. I recommend the Chicken Quarter with Salad for the main. This particular bird is a Brune Landaise breed, originally from South-West France. It was introduced into the United States a few years ago, and is raised for 110 days in Pennsylvania. And for the dessert, there’s nothing better than an Île Flottante – a house classic!
Le Coq Rico
30 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10003