Poultry for the People

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Restaurateur Yannick Bigourdan is embracing Canada’s current fascination with rotisserie-style chicken with his new Union Chicken concept.

Although chicken remains a staple on restaurant menus, not all chicken dishes are created equally.

According to recent data from Chicago-based Technomic Inc., the popularity of roasted chicken has lost considerable ground in Canada — dropping 12.5 per cent in overall sales in the past year — while creatively crafted chicken selections, handheld options and internationally influenced chicken offerings are on the rise. In the last two years, sales of chicken burgers increased by 5.3 per cent and chicken kabobs by 12.5 per cent.

“From a menu standpoint, it’s the third-most consumed category in Canada, after coffees and red meats,” says Robert Carter, executive director, Foodservice with Toronto-based NPD Group.

Despite the oven-roasted bird losing some traction this year, rotisserie-style chicken has gained popularity. In Toronto, Flock Rotisserie, which opened only a year ago, has seen strong sales of its rotisserie offerings (whole for $18 and half for $9.50 with no sides). Recognizing the high demand for rotisserie, Café Boulud in the Four Seasons Toronto recently added a French Rotisol to its kitchen. Guests can order a Demi poulet and one side for $29 and Poulet à la broche with potatoes and two sides for $68. Joey Bell Tower in downtown Edmonton, which will open this month, is also catering to current Canadians’ palates with its, first-ever, chef’s rotisserie chicken — chicken brined for 24 hours, spit-roasted hourly with signature spices and finished with globally inspired flavours that change daily.

French-born businessman, Yannick Bigourdan, owner and founder of Toronto-based Carbon Bar, wants to reintroduce the rotisserie chicken to the North American market and believes his rotisserie style will set him apart from the competition.

“I’ve always had the interest in roasted chicken and I’ve been saying to one business partner, I know I have to do it; I know I have to get it out of me because I know it will be highly successful,” says Bigourdan, who is launching his newest venture, Union Chicken at Toronto’s Union Station. “My parents used to own a delicatessen store in France [that sold] rotisserie chicken. In our small Southern French village, you would typically have the delicatessen store, the butcher’s shop beside it, the bakery across from them and a church nearby. On Sunday mornings, you gather, go to church, go to make appearances and then, around 10:30, everybody goes shopping for lunch with their family. We’d be extremely busy [at the store] with the whole community picking up roasted chickens. On Sundays, we would probably sell about 300 to 400 chickens.”

The Carbon Bar owner says rotisserie-style chicken has been trending in many countries for almost 20 years, “So we’d be just catching up with what has been going on in other parts of the world.”

Bigourdan and Carter both cite chicken as the most widely-eaten meat across religions and also point out its reputation as a healthy lean-meat option — attributes that beef and pork lack.

“Chicken is a lean protein, it’s easy to prepare and it can be prepared in so many different ways,” Bigourdan says. “In every culture, chicken is present in some way and most religions allow eating it. With the oceans being depleted of fish and the amount of resources it takes to raise cattle, chicken has a much brighter future.”

At Bigourdan’s Union Chicken restaurants, chicken will be front-and-centre, featuring a menu of rotisserie chicken paired with various creatively crafted sides. He is not yet ready to share more information about the menu but says he will be applying cooking methods he learned in Southern France to bring Canadians a culinary experience not presently available in the country.

While rotisserie chicken can be found in nearly all big-name grocery stores’ prepared foods section, Bigourdan is confident Union Chicken will stand out among other competitors’ offerings because his clientele will be different: “I would call them, well-travelled, [who] appreciate getting a higher quality product,” he says. “We are adding our culinary experience and our culinary passion that a grocery store may not be able to bring — that expertise of restaurants of a high calibre. So we’ll be competitive in that way.”

When it comes to his focus on rotisserie-style chicken, Bigourdan feels his unique set of experiences — growing up in a small European village, working alongside his parents to prepare the chicken that attracted a whole town, and later operating a successful metropolitan restaurant of his own — give him the means to elevate a traditional form of European cooking into a fashionable 21st-century option suited to the tastes of Toronto’s urban dwellers.

Written By Eric Alister

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