February 1, 2017

Q&A with Chef Antoine Westermann on his New NYC Restaurant, Le Coq Rico

Three-Michelin-star Chef Antoine Westermann opens a farmhouse-themed restaurant that celebrates American birds and terroir in Gramercy.

by New York Spaces

le coq rico, chef antoine westermann
Le Coq Rico.
le coq rico, chef antoine westermann
Le Coq Rico.

NYS: What made you decide to open Le Coq Rico? What is the idea behind it and the name?

Chef Antoine Westermann of Le Coq Rico: Our name is inspired by a classic French tradition—in the past, restaurants were often named for their chef or owner—Chez Roger, Chez Ginette, Le Chien qui fume, Le Père Bize, the list goes on. I wanted Le Coq Rico to be focused on the highest-quality poultry, so it made perfect sense to name the bistro after a rooster! Le Coq Rico means The Rooster Rico—he's the heart and soul of the restaurant.

NYS: What was the objective behind the interiors? What was it like working with your friend and architect, Pascal Deprez on the design?

Chef Antoine Westermann: I've worked with Pascal Desprez to design of many of my restaurants in Paris and he is very talented. It was very important to both of us that Le Coq Rico in New York have its own unique look and feel. We celebrate American birds and terroir at Le Coq Rico and our farmers are very important to us—our farmhouse-inspired design reflects that. We utilized a reclaimed wood for the walls and floors, along with marble for the bars. These strong, sturdy materials keep us grounded in New York and connect to the deep roots of our heritage birds.

NYS: How did you approach the space to make it efficient and comfortable for both the diners and kitchen alike?

Chef Antoine Westermann: Le Coq Rico occupies a historic landmark building on 20th Street in Gramercy—the

le coq rico, chef antoine westermann
Le Coq Rico.

U-shaped layout of the restaurant was really unique and exactly what we wanted. It allows us to offer many different experiences for our diners. Guests are welcomed into our bar room, our wine cellar area is great for tables for two, we have our main dining room for larger groups and our long show kitchen bar offers the sensory experience of watching our chefs cooking and putting on a show.

NYS: We love that you commissioned artist Doug Fitch to create a multimedia representation of the restaurant's namesake rooster, Rico. Tell us about it!

Chef Antoine Westermann: Doug Fitch and I were introduced by a mutual friend a few years ago and got along immediately. He knows a lot about food and actually kept a hen in his home for six months (this was immediately following a performance piece that starred the hen). We share a similar artistic sensibility and creative mindset.

Around the opening, Fitch created a multimedia representation of Rico—the playful piece hangs prominently in the restaurant's dining room. And together we recently updated the interiors to further expand upon the tale Rico. Fitch recently installed delicate white feathers in frames around the main dinning room, along with feathers and glass egg shells catching the light and seeming to fall from the ceiling. The feathers are meant to evoke a feeling of protection, as if diners are safely nestled under Rico's wing. We also have new blue lights which frame the bar and show kitchen, suggesting the presence of Rico in each section of the bistro.

le coq rico, chef antoine westermann
Le Coq Rico.

We installed a humorous new vignette in the vestibule leading to the restaurant's restrooms, which houses hundreds of eggs on shelves bathed in grey and yellow light. Walking into the space is a sensory experience and evokes a warm incubator, another allusion to Rico's life story. All of the new design elements are fun and playful—we want our guests to have a relaxed and friendly dining experience.

NYS: What can diners expect from the menu?

Chef Antoine Westermann: Le Coq Rico is an ode to poultry. We use only the finest quality of noble and heritage birds raised responsibly and mindfully in the American Northeast. It's the signature cuisine that I've loved since childhood—we have poule au pot, roast chicken with fries, and goose in season.

Each of the birds on our menu have been raised in pasture-based conditions for a specified period of time—up to 130 days. We want them to have the best possible life conditions. The result is a nutritious, flavorful bird whose taste profile reflects the nuance of their breed and the terroir of their place of origin. We utilize all parts of the birds, as evidenced by our offal platter, egg preparations and vegetable-forward dishes served with chicken jus. We try to live up to our "bistro of beautiful bird" tagline!

le coq rico, chef antoine westermann
Le Coq Rico.

NYS: You already have four restaurants in Paris—can we expect to see you open more in NYC?

Chef Antoine Westermann: Le Coq Rico is still less than a year old. My focus is here for the moment!

NYS: You were only 23 years old when you opened your first restaurant and later received three Michelin stars at another restaurant! What can we expect of you now?

Chef Antoine Westermann: I received three Michelin stars for Le Buerehiesel in Strasbourg, the restaurant I opened when I was 23 years old. At that time in my life, I wanted to share my creative cuisine and build my identity. I spent 20 hours a day in my kitchen until I found my style—I was very honored to be recognized at the highest level that my profession has to offer.

Over time, my ambitions changed. Now, animals are my biggest concern and I'm an advocate for the slow food movement—this means sharing meat from animals who have had the long and happy life that they deserve. You can taste the difference in their flavorful, perfect meat.

Le Coq Rico is located at 30 East 20th Street.

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