Up to now, fast food, healthy food and delicious food have been mutually exclusive terms. But by taking the finger lickin’ out of chicken while keeping it tasty and easy to eat on the fly, chef KEITH FAMIE hopes to set a culinary example for the ’90s. Famie, 30, plans to open his first health-conscious fast-food place, Famie’s Chicken, in May in Troy, Mich., with franchises following if the concept clicks. Currently owner of the acclaimed Les Auteurs bistro in suburban Detroit, Famie admits, “A lot of my peers-chefs—have asked, ‘Is Keith Famie selling out for fast food?’ You know what? This is good food. Some people will appreciate the fact that it’s low in fat and high in protein. Others will appreciate it just because it tastes good.”
His menu of crispy-skinned breasts, wings, legs and thighs (diners’ choice) has already attracted spies from prospective competitors who “take notes and ask all kinds of questions,” he claims. Famie says the key to his process is a mammoth rotisserie he discovered in Europe that allows fat to drip from the chicken and does not char the skin, as grilling does. Honey mustard and barbecue sauce are served on the side with baked Yukon Gold potato wedges. An alternate entree is deep-dish chicken pizza with whole-wheat crust and low-fat smoked mozzarella.
Voted least likely to succeed in his suburban Detroit high school, Famie majored in girls and tennis and still wears a sweatband instead of a toque. He started washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant at 15, toiled in European hotel kitchens at 19 and took over as chef at a four-star Detroit eatery at 22. He opened his own bistro in 1988 and has catered dinner for the Rolling Stones (smoked salmon, chicken Ballotine, roast veal tenderloin) and a lunch for President Bush and Gerald Ford (chicken, pizza, pasta—”the platter was empty when they were done”). His fondest fantasy for the future, after franchising his quick-and-crispy chicken joints exclusively to “managers who have a degree in the culinary arts,” would be to give the world robot waiters: “attentive, reliable, manageable.”