Some people are born to cook. "My grandmother has this story: I was three years old, and every morning I would wake up and ask her for tomates farcies. Do you know the dish? It's tomatoes stuffed with meat and onions. Normally a kid asks for chocolate or milk or something, but I was three years old and I only wanted tomates farcies. I was a huge eater from day one."
"It's a passion we have in the blood."
Those are the words of Romain, the man behind Cocotte's healthy rotisserie chicken and fresh salads. "When I moved to London four years ago, there weren't as many rotisserie chicken places as there were France, so that's where the idea came from. The healthy eating market was booming, so we decided to combine roasted chicken on one hand, and salads with kale and superfood ingredients on the other."
If mighty oaks from little acorns grow, then Romain the chef germinated working weekends and holidays in his parents' restaurant. "I started by serving coffee, polishing glasses – and when I made a mistake at school I had to do the dishes. It's a passion that my family have in their blood – my brother and sister are the same too."
"When you work in a Michelin Star kitchen, you can do anything."
After picking up a masters in management, Romain went to cooking school, where he spent time working in Michelin starred kitchens. "It was basically like being in the army. I know it's not like that in every kitchen, but the one I was in was very old school. I learned a lot of good things, though. When you work in a Michelin star kitchen you can do anything, but the opposite is not true."
Working in a Michelin star environment means learning to identify and work with the very best ingredients, but what exactly puts one chicken at the top of the pecking order? "It's all about what the chickens eat, the way they live – we only use naturally raised farm chickens, they spend half of their lives outside. All of our vegetables come from one of the top veggie suppliers in the UK. It's the most important thing."
"The total process time is around 27 hours. It's a lot of work."
Romain shows us his ovens – a couple of wardrobe-sized machines which he compares to a Rolls Royce. "They're very precise and allow you to have a consistent quality of food every day. It's a combination oven, which means you can steam and do conventional cooking at the same time.
"We marinate the chicken for twenty-four hours. Then we steam them – that's how it stays moist. After that we put them on the rotisserie to make sure the skin is nice and crispy. The total process time is around twenty seven hours. It's a lot of work." It's certainly a lot of time and effort to put into each chicken, but what's time and effort when you're doing what you love? "It's passion – I really love what I do and I try to employ people who love what they do. All of that should, hopefully, combine to make great food."
The salads are a canvas of different colours and amazing fresh aromas.
We can't help but agree. As the oven doors open and the chicken comes out, the restaurant is filled with the delicious smell of perfectly cooked chicken. It's a deep, satisfying smell that conjures up happy memories of Sunday afternoons spent at home. Served up with a range of homemade sauces, the skin's crispy, the meat is tender and juicy, and the only downside is that I have to share it with our photographer.
A word on those sauces. All homemade, the garlic mayo, BBQ, chicken gravy, spicy sauce, truffle mayo and (our personal favourite) the Cocotte mustard are all a must-try. It's the perfect way to enjoy your chicken, with a different sauce for every bite. And the chicken is only half of the story. As Romain lays out the salads on the table, we're treated to a canvas of different colours and amazing fresh aromas. What gave him the inspiration to create this edible garden?
"I try to take inspiration… To find out what I love and what I don't."
"I love to try a lot of different places, read cookbooks and find out what I love and what I don't. I try to take inspiration from everything, and I do a lot of tasting with friends. We're launching a new salad at the end of the week, so we've been trying it out on some regular customers, to get their feedback."
Cocotte regulars have it good, then. Getting first dibs on a new salad is simply one of the perks of the job. Romain takes us through some of the bestsellers; "This is the Nini's – so it's broccoli, mangetout and mushrooms, and the dressing is made with olive oil, lime juice and basil. It's very nice, very fresh. The veggies are just steamed for a few minutes to keep them crunchy and to keep them very green. I want to play a lot with the quality of ingredients, because I think they are amazing."
"I always want to try everything"
As with the chicken, it's mainly about letting the ingredients speak for themselves. The Natalie salad, with kale, roasted yellow peppers and tahini is another great example. Drizzled in walnut and lime dressing, the veggies are firmly the star of the show, and the result is a delicious, fresh feeling that stays with you long after you've finished eating. It's almost too good to share, though Cocotte's food is meant to be enjoyed with your nearest and dearest.
"The concept is based on sharing food – that's the way it should be. You order chicken, you have all the sauces, you order side dishes and you can try all of the different combinations. I love to do that. I always want to try everything."
It's the best excuse, and Cocotte throws up an impressive list of those. It's healthy, it's tasty, you can share it, and it comes from the mind of a man who knows his way around a Michelin star kitchen. What more can we say? Best to stay quiet, we'll take a leaf out of Romain's book and let the food do the talking.
If you want to try Cocotte's fresh chicken for yourself, head over to Deliveroo to see if they are available in your area!
Battersea (delivery only)
Camberwell (delivery only)