Inspired by the meals her mother made for her growing up, Sophie Nathal, with husband Eric, introduces French rotisserie to Austin.
By Cy White, Photos courtesy of Austin Rotisserie
Imagine meeting someone and plucking up the courage to ask them out. You go on your first date, and very quickly you realize this person is going to become someone very special in your life. Out of the first few dates, you not only acknowledge you’ve found “The One,” but you…open a restaurant.
Though not 100% exactly what happened with Sophie and Eric Nathal, it’s close enough to count their love story as one of the most fascinating of all time. Sharing memories of homecooked meals, Sophie from France, Eric from Mexico, the two leaned in to those memories to create their first food truck serving French-style rotisserie chicken. The rest, as they say….
Sophie took some time to talk a bit about her food journey and the wonders of French rotisserie chicken.
When did your relationship with food begin?
Growing up, the kitchen was where we would all hang out; I would always be there when my mom would be cooking asking to taste everything. I’m very lucky because my mom is an amazing cook and was a huge influence on me. As a teenager, I worked in a lot of different restaurants in Paris and even though I was a server, everything about food and running a restaurant was very interesting to me. I sort of always knew I would have a business in the culinary milieu.
What is a dish from childhood that is a go-to for you?
Rotisserie chicken was childhood staple for me! Sometimes after school, my mom would choose to pick up a whole rotisserie chicken in the “rue Cler” which is one of Paris’ most cherished market streets. The street is filled with cafes, boulangeries, rotisseurs , florists, book stores and more. I remember the amazing smell just walking down the street and looking at the golden chickens on the spit – it was so buttery and delicious! I absolutely loved the potatoes that would cook under the chicken drippings – as much as the chicken. These childhood memories are one one of the reasons I wanted to bring French rotisserie to Austin. The rotisserie experience in France is one of family, memories and sharing a delicious meal together.
Another childhood favorite I still enjoy – a baguette slathered with butter and a side of chocolate milk. Some things never change, right? It’s like a time machine back to my childhood.
Rotisserie chicken has a very fond place in your heart. Could you tell us what makes French rotisseries so unique?
A lot of people don’t know that the term rotisserie was in fact created in France beginning in the middle-ages. Traditionally, geese were the common poultry used, but over centuries chicken became the standard. The magic with the rotisserie cooking method is the constant turning and even cooking of the chicken. Also, with each turn, the chicken self-basting any drippings are absorbed by the potatoes at the bottom of the chickens – in France, the potatoes are a very important part of rotisserie.
What also makes it unique in France is the way they display the rotisserie chicken storefront. It’s hard not to walk by and crave chicken with the smell of butter and potatoes. In Paris you don’t buy your rotisserie chicken at the grocery store but you go to your local rotisseur (basically a butcher for rotisserie). They usually wrap the chicken in front of you with butcher paper and twine. Rotisseries are very popular, you can easily find a rotisserie in every neighborhood.
How have you elevated/innovated traditional French home cuisine?
My goal at Austin Rotisserie was to serve the most authentic French rotisserie chicken possible and honor it rather than change it. That said, at Austin Rotisserie, we offer more than traditional French rotisserie chicken. We added items than you would usually find in boulangeries like croissants and baguette sandwiches and we offer non-traditional French items like our salsa verde that is more common with Peruvian-style rotisserie. This sauce is a “cruda” sauce, meaning all the ingredients are raw: cilantro, garlic, lime juice, mayo and crème fraiche. My husband, Eric, is from Mexico. So it is more similar to what would be served with rotisserie in Latin America.
The concept for Austin Rotisserie revolves around introducing authentic everyday French cuisine to Austin. We operate as both a French rotisserie and a boulangerie. We source our dough directly from France, allowing us to craft fresh baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat multiple times daily. A big part of our business is our baguette sandwiches which are very popular — offerings include The Parisian (butter, ham, and Swiss, The Norwegian (a smoked salmon baguette with goat cheese, argugala, tomato, and our roti sauce) to croque monsieur for brunch.
What inspired you to take a chance and open a food truck and restaurant introducing French rotisserie to Austin?
My husband and I had just moved to Austin from Miami – I was still working as a stylist and my husband was working in tech PR. It was right around New Years and we somehow started talking about rotisserie chicken. He shared stories about he and his dad buying rotisserie in Mexico to watch the weekend soccer games with the family. We realized that for us both, rotisserie had an emotional connection. And we both missed having a neighborhood rotisserie and started talking about the idea and quickly realized there would be a market for our concept in Austin. So, we decided to just go for it, life is too short for regrets!
We were lucky enough to meet the team at (now closed in Austin ) Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery and they took a chance on us. We started as a pop-up for about a year and then took the leap to invest in a food truck.
As mentioned before, I somehow always knew I was going to have a business in the food industry but in this specific case I started this beautiful adventure with my husband who is also the chef. We were both thrilled at the idea of introducing the traditional and authentic rotisserie concept to Austin.
What is your favorite dish on the menu? Or what is a dish on the menu that you would recommend to readers?
Oh that’s like asking me which of my pets is my favorite! To be honest, it’s always changing, but obviously the chicken is always a go-to. But lately, I’ve been on a Parisian Baguette kick – it’s probably the simplest thing on our menu, but so satisfying. It’s only 4 ingredients, baguette, salted butter, Swiss cheese and uncured French ham. We freshly slice all of our deli meats and cheeses on site and source French salted butter. I would also have to recommend the Poulet roti baguette, that way you get try our rotisserie chicken as well as our freshly baked baguette.
What are some final thoughts you have for our readers?
Considering a career change can be both exciting and overwhelming, but don’t overthink it. You can always go back to what you had, but the personal fulfillment of taking a risk is incredibly rewarding. It’s never too late to pursue a new path. Have confidence in your abilities and trust the journey ahead.