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.
Happiness in the countryside
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.
From philosophy to Fil’O’Fromage
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.
An unforgettable taste experience
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.
For a complete sensory journey
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