There are few dishes that are as universally adored as a perfectly roasted chicken. Crispy skin with an amazing herb rub and the most succulent, juicy flesh – what’s not to love? Meet Marie Ranc and Jerome Carlier, who joined forces in 2012 to open takeout joint La Rotisserie in Hong Kong to bring their favorite Sunday staple from their native France to the streets. We caught up with them at their branch on Staunton Street in Central to discuss their beginnings in the industry and sample their menu.
In the words of co-founder Carlier: “You never get disappointed by roast chicken. When it’s freshly roasted, juicy … yeah, you don’t meet anyone who can resist it.”
He recounts his experiences walking around France, surrounded by the smells of fresh roasts wafting down the streets. “You find it in every corner, because usually all the butcher shops in France, Paris or any small village usually sell this – especially on Sundays.”
“Yeah, it’s our street food in a way,” adds Ranc. “Everybody likes chicken in Asia, in Hong Kong especially. So this is us bringing a little bit of home, of France, to Hong Kong.”
How it started
The journey started for Ranc and Carlier after meeting in Hong Kong through mutual friends and discovering their shared dissatisfaction over their jobs in trading and finance, respectively. Soon after, they recruited head chef Aurelian Malik Benbernou – who at the time was working at the restaurant under Carlier’s office – into the mix. Armed only with one roast machine, their own pocket money and a big idea, they started the grueling hunt for the perfect location for their first small shop.
“You know how summer in Hong Kong is. It was a very sweaty summer for us walking around and trying to find the right location,” says Carlier, of their early days. “The first six months we were really hands-on in the shop, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week. We were coming back home and our partners were always like ‘Ohh, you smell like chicken.’ And it was extremely tiring.
“I think I lost 5 kg in just the first week because you are never hungry when you are working with so much food around. So it was a tough experience for sure, but then we got to know exactly how the operations work in the shop.”
However, their hard work was worth it as word started to get around, and the La Rotisserie team became busier. While it is no question that the food here speaks for itself (it’s GOOD!), they also attribute much of their success to their values and efforts to “try to be a part of the local area and create links with the people around.”
“We want to only be on the ground floor, on street level,” said Ranc. “We were very lucky that we found a good location that was very central and convenient for other businesses and communities in the area.”
Despite the valuable insight the pair gained while working in the shop, they decided after 2-3 years to transition out of the kitchen. One important consideration in creating a successful business, according to Carlier, is recognizing where you can contribute most.
“For Marie and myself, the highest value we can bring is not in the kitchen,” he says. “Marie has so much more experience with sourcing and marketing. And coming from finance, working with Excel, for me, brings much more value.”
Nowadays, the pair are increasingly hard to track down, zipping from location to location to deal with their expansion and operations. “Our work from day to day is never the same,” describes Ranc. “You know roughly where and when you start your day, but from there you never know where it will head.”
How it’s going
Fast forward a few years, and La Rotisserie is still going strong with six branches under their belt. While still primarily a takeout joint, the Staunton Street branch where we now sit is open and airy with tall, curbside counter seating where guests can gather and mingle.
“We wanted something fresh and modern, not too ‘French cheesy,’” they say, laughing between themselves. “It’s very important for us to be authentic and produce something that you would find in France. The opposite of this I would say is Delifrance … no offense.”
However, behind the counter sits the most integral part of the whole affair – the roast machines. “It’s kind of a show as well,” says Carlier, “it’s nice to let customers watch the chicken spinning and slowly becoming more crispy and brown.”
This type of roast machine is a rare find in Hong Kong, but a staple of European culture. “The process of roasting is quite special and you cannot really do it in the oven,” Carlier explains.
“You have the heater on the back and the doors on the front, which are quite open. So when the meat is roasting it’s going on the back side getting very hot and the flesh dilates, but as it cools down at the front it contracts. This brings a unique tenderness to the flesh which you cannot get using other methods. It’s a way of cooking that is from the middle ages and used to be mostly for celebration, so it’s very important to us.”
Indeed, it is clear that every aspect of La Rotisserie is deliberate and thoughtful, each a careful reflection of the founders values. “The F&B business is not just about food, we are careful about the impact on the environment and community as well,” explains Carlier. For instance, not a single scrap of plastic can be found in the restaurant, and this applies to the kitchen as well. They have also been involved with charitable initiatives to raise funds for people in need.
This careful consideration is central even to their menu, “Chicken is one of the meats with the least environmental impact as well,” he continues, “it also has no issue with any religion or culture and is fully appreciated by most people worldwide.”
Despite being one of the most commonly enjoyed foods out there, what makes the food at La Rotisserie so special is the fact that all of these dishes, elevated as they are, could easily come out of any one of our homes. “The most important thing is that all the food is homemade, or handmade, I should say.
“We don’t source any processed products,” Carlier notes, “we believe that a bigger and bigger focus is what the customers are buying. When you buy processed products, you don’t know exactly what ingredients are used inside. By cooking everything yourself, you know exactly what you use and the quality you serve your customers.”
Everything at La Rotisserie is held to this standard, from the blended herb rubs to the quiche batter. As such, the quality of the ingredients is of paramount importance. Ranc, ever the perfectionist and super-sourcer, takes it upon herself to ensure that this remains consistent across the board.
“We really spend a lot of time sourcing so we can import the best to do the best,” she says, “So we import everything we can from France, the chicken is all imported from France, even the vegetables, flour and cream. All of these make a huge difference in terms of the final flavor.”
What we think of La Rotisserie
At the end of the day, all we can say is that all this thought pays off. The love that the La Rotisserie team has for the process is plain, and the result is food that is anything but. The roasted chicken lives up to the hype for sure, but we also suggest checking out their newly-added roasted duck breast, which we can only describe as delectable, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Even the salad bar is enough to make us excited, with enough options for you to have a different dish every day of the week. Our picks include the aggressively-seasoned French bean salad and a beetroot salad that won over a lifelong hater.
Pro tip: Keep an eye out for their weekly set meals, starting at HK$98 that includes a sizable portion of your protein of choice and a hearty helping of sides. It’s definitely an upgrade from your regular weeknight dinner.
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