Pierre-Philippe Saussy had seen and done it all: worked in France and Bel­gium, New York and Los An­ge­les. Trained un­der leg­ends like David Bouley and Roger Vergé. Even risen to the head of some of the world’s most fa­mous kitchens. But last year, he sud­denly re­al­ized he was done. “I’d been in fine din­ing my whole life, and I al­ways thought that was what my ca­reer would al­ways be,” Saussy re­calls. “But af­ter 20 years, I re­al­ized I wanted to try some­thing dif­fer­ent. So I went into the fried­chicken busi­ness.”

The move from foie gras and filet mignon to fried birds and brioche buns may seem like a fall, but for Saussy, born in Puerto Rico, it was a leap to­ward some­thing far more grat­i­fy­ing than a Miche­lin star: hap­pi­ness. “Ev­ery few years,” he says, “I’d move back for a year or six months and then move on to an­other city. I fi­nally de­cided that I just wanted to stay for good.”

He re­turned home two years ago and im­me­di­ately con­nected with a lo­cal ho­tel to cre­ate a high-pro­file res­tau­rant. But the project stalled and an en­tirely dif­fer­ent al­lure took hold: In the San­turce district, an aban­doned lot was be­ing con­verted into Lote 23, an as­sem­blage of sleek wood-pan­eled food stalls run by some of the is­land’s most promis­ing young tal­ents. In the midst of an eco­nomic cri­sis, brickand-mor­tar restau­rants were fail­ing left and right; this was the next big thing. In March 2017, Saussy opened Hen House, with a small menu fea­tur­ing just one en­trée—a fried-chicken sand­wich—and a hand­ful of sides.

“It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to take two ingredients and make them taste amaz­ing,” Saussy says. “Ev­ery el­e­ment of this sand­wich has tech­nique be­hind it.” In fact, the idea started not with chicken breasts or buns, but with cu­cum­bers from a lo­cal farm. On a whim, Saussy made a killer dill pickle and then vis­ited an­other lo­cal farm to source the per­fect let­tuce to go with it. Un­til Hur­ri­cane Maria, all of his chick­ens—which he fries in a home­made but­ter­milk bat­ter that adds just the right amount of salt and kick—came from Puerto Ri­can poul­try barns. “The ones we’re get­ting from the U.S. right now just can’t com­pare,” he says, “but we’re start­ing to see the lo­cal birds come back.”

Also com­ing back is the brickand-mor­tar res­tau­rant: Saussy has plans to open a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion of his ac­claimed chicken shack in San Juan’s Con­dado neigh­bor­hood early next year. It will fea­ture a broader menu with even more de­cep­tively sim­ple dishes. And, he says, it will be yet an­other sign of Puerto Rico’s big­ger come­back. “Peo­ple are start­ing to see that there is def­i­nitely a fu­ture here. It’s hard to ex­plain, but there’s some­thing go­ing on here. And it’s some­thing good.”


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