He appears as a cherub in the bluish light of his gallery restaurant shop, and the encounter opens on a heavenly vault, with cheeses for constellations. Clément Chérif Boubrit has been an oenologist and cheese maker for 35 years, and his passion made him create a unique concept to learn and share about taste in a great conviviality. At his place, it is the kingdom of good wines that accompanies refined cheeses, all selected with delicacy, and combined with great art between music and photography. Everything has to converge towards the only objective of the master which is to experiment an epicurean journey discovering our taste buds, with all our senses left exhilarated.
When he was young, Cherif did not fall into cheese but into a rural life, though ! Second child of a large family, he grew up in a country house with a large garden. “My parents cultivated their vegetables there, and very young, my father gave me a piece of land, as to each of his children, asking me to take care of it.” He will learn how to grow wheat and harvest all kinds of vegetables. “We also had a farm with ducks, chickens and even a donkey”. This taught him to come into contact with the earth and the products of nature, and to know the authentic flavors. “When I was picking the fresh chives from the garden, there was such an aromatic explosion that it was carved in my memory !” With his mother, he will learn the hook, sewing, tapestry and cooking and as “she was music lover, his childhood was surrounded by music”. His passion for photography also comes from there, when his father gave him a professional camera “with a bellows and an old-fashioned room”, to take the family pictures.
Chérif was among the first of his class at school, but very young he understood that to surpass himself, one has to do what he really likes. And he grew up in a Cartesian education that gave him “a sense of duty and values of righteousness and justice”. To honor his parents, he then reached the highest level of education and wrote a thesis on Greek philosophy in order to become researcher. It was there that he was told that the antique and medieval chair would be closed without any coming open position in higher education. A real blow that will question his life goals and choices and will open to him the doors of another philosophy, that of taste, art and encounters.
At that time, he was 24 years old and he worked as a handler “at a cheese artist who had the art and the secret of the refining. This is where I discovered the world of cheese and it was a thunderbolt! I tasted everything, enjoying the associations of flavors with an ever-evolving product. And I said to myself: why not do what you like in your life?” Cooking and gastronomy had marked his childhood. And even his work on Epicure leads him to this matter, made of raw milk and patience, which allows him to express himself. “I then started a business that was not known at that time, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris”. He worked on the quality of the products and his place will enter the gourmet guides after two years only. A success for this autodidact who has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experiences. In 1989, he will buy his own cheese boutique which he will call Fil’O’Fromage. It was in a small Parisian shop, designed with Art Deco 1930. “The fridges were still with ice cubes and there was a soul of time, with green bluish Italian marble and antique lanterns”, and he will keep this spirit by adding only a ray of chilled cheeses.
During these years, Chérif Boubrit will also train at the prestigious Ferrandi school as a caterer, then oenologist and will create a qualitative professional network, travelling around France and Europe in search of the best producers of cheeses and wines. “We used to visit the vineyards and taste all the wines on different years; the same grape variety from the same terroir, but with different appellations in a progressive increase. And that was a click!” Chérif wants to associate wines and cheeses to educate the taste of his customers in a convivial atmosphere. He will refine his project for 4 years until he will find a site in the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand district where to launch his concept. He will there become winner of the Grand Prix of the wine press in restaurants, Panaché d’or of Gastronomy of France and Navarre and holder of the apprentice masters’ Award of Excellence by the Chamber of Commerce.
All his concept is based on this observation : how can a product as exceptional as cheese be left behind in a meal, because it is reserved at the end when our taste buds are saturated with flavors? Chérif Boubrit wants to innovate and create dishes with only cheese, from aperitif to dessert, creating a real conviviality. Because for him, the cheese enables great combinations with multiple flavors and especially with wine: association of harmony, reason, fusion, balance or even opposition, “and one increases the pleasure in juggling progressively through these flavors through vertical climbs.” To construct the recipes, he will rely on his own gastronomic experience for years. With friends, he had launched dinners on the regional theme, where everyone was preparing a specialty with exclusively local products. Thus for Corsica, the Basque Country, Normandy, but also Italy, Switzerland or Spain, and the Master Cheese-Maker carefully recorded his taste discoveries in factsheets.
In his restaurant-grocery shop, Chérif Boubrit proposes nearly 300 varieties of cheeses and 12 copious plates based on the 12 cheese regions of France (Alsace, Lyon or Isigny-Saint-Mère…). “This number rose to 25 with the themes (Chèvre, Brie, Bleu …) and the European dishes (English, Helvetic…) ”. The menu is also updated every year and includes about thirty hot dishes (Aligot, Tartiflette or Corsican Poêlon…) and a fine selection of the best wines. The Volcanic plate of the Pays d’Auvergne, for example, is composed of Saint-Nectaire fermier, Pavin, Murols, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert, Gasperon, Cantal de Montagne and Salers. There, tasting is done blindly without knowing the name of the cheeses or the wines, “so as to have no judgement and experience the senses”. For each guest, he gives his advices on the double food and wine tour, one salty and the other salty and sweet. “A touch of cheese should be lined first on all the buds of taste. Then we just slip a splash of wine to see how the wine will react and what type of alliance it will achieve.” It’s the second round with the jam. “There, the flavors are completely transformed as the jam will regulate the malic acidities of the wine and the lactic ones of the cheese. The fruit will also regulate the powers to create a subtle and nuanced alliance.” And it is this never-ending addition which makes the richness and the originality of his concept.
Each month, Chérif Boubrit also organizes thematic events. His goal is to make his clients travel, gathering on one place all his passions and “for special moments where music, gastronomy and art will be connected”. This jazz lover has worked with leading international professional photographers in the Club of the French Museum of Photography in Bièvres, where he became a teacher and animator for 20 years. He also met some of them during his trips, where he draws his inspiration for exhibitions. For example a few months ago, he has put forward the Basque Country with a cheese producer and a local winegrower, with a dinner presenting photographs of the Féria and with musicians for a typically Basque polyphonic jazz evening. Obviously cheeses, charcuterie and wines were those of the region, with a tasting ritual for the joy of each sense. Soon, the master cheesemaker will also offer week-ends of wine tourism to get close to the producers, and “thus live the birth of a product and taste it on the spot, for an education of taste that changes life.”
Clément Chérif Boubrit is a creator of alliances and a craftsman of taste, and definitely a free electron and a professional apart. His philosophical background gave him an epicurean vision of life, and he works it by all kinds of associations to show that taste is also a discipline to be acquired and transmitted. His passion for culture and gastronomy allows him to be at the forefront when it comes to gather around the celestial cheese, for a convivial tasting moment that will mark forever.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 27, 2017, in Paris
Link to the website of Fil’O’Fromage
“ Through my career, the link between cheese and philosophy remains an enigma, yet philosophical reflection does exist. For the cheese embodies two fundamental philosophical theories; those of determinism and education. And we can meditate on its transformation observing how with the genetic origins of the animal that produced the milk, the climatic and geographic conditions, and then the parameters of hydrometry, we obtain a solid material that has different tastes, textures and fragrances, from one season to another. Cheese is also a miraculous product when we know how to work it, because if we raise it well, we will get flavors that will take our customers taste buds on a euphorique journey. Then we are in the enjoyment of life and the constant quest for the quintessence of the taste to perfect ourselves and our daily life. Cheese brings this philosophy because it is a true, authentic and living product. The education of cheese, therefore, is its maturation. And this is an artistic job indeed like a painter who sculpts a flavor. Of course, originally, the product has to be excellent but then, there is a parallel with the wine, which also ripens and develops its aromas over time. Then, we get a quintessence of flavors with associations that can be multiplied indefinitely.
What I love above all is diversity, because it brings an authentic richness that makes each experience unique. Yes, a cheese is like a human being. It has a personality of its own and it is from this particularity that a global unity springs forth. If one takes the Reblochon, for example, from one producer to another, it will have a different taste quality, because there is behind the terroir and a whole chain of production; from pasture to milk, then the quality of the beast until production and refining. All this journey is essential and the authenticity is there, at every step. When you get up at five in the morning with the farmer to attend the milking of the cows, and then you see him walking his animals lovingly from one plot to another to have a fragrant milk, it changes your way of tasting the final product and appreciate it. That’s why I have no prior knowledge about the choice of labels or the use of associations, and I encourage my clients to discover with their senses by letting themselves be surprised. For example with a Camembert, I will propose a Rolle grape variety that is slightly sweet and rounded on fruit (a half dry to the limit), a farm cider or a white. And not powerful wines as we used to do. The result is a highlight of both wine and cheese that is magical !
It makes me smile, but I am used to saying that one is assured all risks when one comes to my house. Everything is suggested; Nothing is imposed. And I am committed to an alliance because I am here to make the customers discover new flavors. My biggest pride was to have made blocked people eat cheese and make them love it. I am somewhere with my concept and my products, a taste therapist, and I love this mission because the approach is always humble, curious, without preconceived ideas, like little children who marvel at what they get in mouth. In short, we must remain open and receptive, and this is what will make the authenticity last.
So, what is the relationship with luxury? For me, true luxury is not in packaging and ostentatious, but in truth, purity and endurance products. Because when the taste is persistent then it is authentic. I am increasingly getting oriented in my research on forgotten, rare and indigenous grape varieties. There is a whole set of flavors that express the true richness of a terroir. We close our eyes, we taste this flavor and we are transported in this region. We then travel through the memories. And this is what anchors the experience in us, this sensory memory, which is not theory. Thus, whether they are readable separately or with subtle alliances, it is an explosion of taste at each time and an apprenticeship that makes us see life differently, in a state of permanent grace and gratitude.
I would like each customer to leave this place with the conviction that a flavor also needs our inner look that does not stop at appearances. For as long as one has not dissected the inside of a flavor, one will not have tasted its expression and one will not know what it is worth. I always bind the laws of nature and flavors. They are really the foundation of reality. And luxury is to get to the bottom of things, to discover the essence that is revealed and the hidden treasure. Then, there is nothing more beautiful than to taste the authenticity of a being, a flavor and an encounter ! ”
Written by Carine Mouradian, based on an interview in September 27, 2017, Paris
Link to the website of Fil’O’Fromage