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It’s a go-to address for foodies who love quality produce sold in a shop that harks back to our childhoods. A warm welcome only 20 m down the pavement of its new parent company, the Michelin-starred restaurant Quinsou. Packed with yesteryear charm, La Boucherie Grégoire has retained its traditional image. A painted wooden shopfront decorated with images that pay ode to traditional French farming and windows that look on to the discreetly elegant rue de l’Abbé Grégoire. Owned by the same family until 2019, when they decided to part ways, this 6th arrondissement icon was taken over by Antonin Bonnet with the idea of putting quality produce back into the heart of the food industry. An idea that could at first seem a bit dotty for someone who is a chef and not a butcher. That said, it’s also a natural choice for a man raised in Lozère by a goat-breeding, cheese-selling mother who always supported ethical production and ecologically respectful cuisine. A history that began with the family vegetable garden and led on to a gastronomic career that included Oustau de Baumanière, working under the watchful eye of Michel Bras and spending time in London and the USA. Since returning to Paris and opening Quinsou (from the Occitan for “chaffinch”‘) this “little bird” has put into practice his desire to combine good food with common sense. Quinsou embodies these principles. La Boucherie Grégoire, taking things a step further. Further in terms of standards and synergy as part of a desire to move in an ecologically-responsible direction. A culinary ecosystem where the butcher and the restaurant kitchen work as one – an endeavour that wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic team who make La Boucherie Grégoire what it is today. Not to mention the driving force that is Francois Guillemin and Claire Choupot. They explained what their daily lives entail to The Socialite Family. Daily lives that encompass this artisan butcher’s incomparable commitment during these uncertain times. A commitment that means the rest of us can still enjoy divine dishes.
La Boucherie Grégoire, 29 rue de l’Abbé Grégoire – 75006 Paris. Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Antonin, François, Claire: could you introduce yourselves, please?
I was born in Lyon and grew up in the Cévennes on a small farm where my mother raised mainly goats I had a direct relationship with nature, with a good understanding of farming and with cooking what we had available in the garden. I have always wanted to cook, and I worked at Oustau de Baumanière (Baux-de-Provence), and then with Michel Bras (Laguiole au Suquet) who taught me a lot. Then I went travelling and cooking, principally in California at Granita (Los Angeles), then in London, where I got a star at the GreenHouse restaurant. I came back to France to become a chef at the Sergent Recruteur in Paris, and then I opened my first restaurant, Quinsou, four years ago. I wanted to give life to a cuisine that makes sense, as beautiful as it is good, and as fair as possible. Last year, I bought the butcher shop 20 m from the restaurant, to establish the Boucherie Grégoire which form an eco-system with the restaurant: the butcher’s shop comes into the restaurant, and the restaurant’s food comes into the butcher’s shop.
I undertook professional retraining. I arrived later in the butcher’s shop thanks to the CQP (professional qualification certificate) I gained in 2011 at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Viande in Paris. I did my apprenticeship with Serge Caillaud for one year in 2012. I was then employed there as his second. Two years later, I left Serge to join the team at Terroirs d’Avenir. That lasted five years. Then I was recruited as assistant head butcher to Bastien Nicolas. In 2019, I joined Antonin Bonnet for Boucherie Grégoire as manager.
I am 25 years old, and I made it to Ferrandi at 18 thanks to a three-year Bachelor’s degree. I did my internship in my final year at l’Astrance. Then I went for a year to Adrien Ferrand at Eels – exciting – but I wanted to enjoy the energy of top-flight gourmet cooking again. I returned to l’Astrance with Pascal Barbot, and I spent two years there, working my way through the pantry and then meat for a year. It was very hard, but I learned a lot. Then I left to experience something new when l’Astrance was about to move. When I was looking for work in July, I thought it would be interesting to move over into a shop to explore a new style of cooking while having “easier” hours and a little more time. At Boucherie Grégoire, I am close to the meat, and I also have a significant hand in the cuisine. I’m happy because I’m independent. We work in an atmosphere of trust. In this time of COVID 19, we are lucky to be able to stay open and work!
What role do you play at La Boucherie Grégoire?
I’m the “chairman” of the butcher’s shop. I manage it operationally, working closely with the butchers. There are lots of discussions and exchanges of ideas: we work on the specifications together. I do the same thing with Claire, through discussions on the culinary direction of the butcher’s shop. I’m not a butcher, I’m more like the conductor, orchestrating the business side of things.
I take care of everything to do with the management of supplies, cutting, cleaning the meat and putting products on the shelves. Outside shop hours, I take care of supplies, both meat and delicatessen products. I spend my Monday mornings calling the producers. In the butcher’s shop, in the morning, I look after the reception of the goods, especially the cuts, to enhance the value of the products. The way the display cases are set up must make you want what’s inside. Vincent and I work as a pair, and we cut up whole carcasses which we unload in the morning. We make all those things that are linked to meat preparation, including rillettes, sausages, pate and brawn etc. And then, of course, we get down to selling and preparing meat for the customers: tying up a roast, cutting meat to size, preparing the legs of lamb and so on.
I’m in charge of the kitchen section. As for my activities, everything depends on my schedule. In the morning, I set up the window and then start the preparation. When I work in the evening, I also take care of sales as well as preparation. In the evening, it is mainly sales. Depending on what time we start, we don’t do the same thing at all, and it’s great to be able to have a hand in everything! When we have the terrace open in the summer, I also take care of the kitchen and the service. I manage the stocks, control the quality of products and orders – and I work on recipes and dishes with Antonin. When the season changes, I come up with ideas, and I discuss projects with him. Sometimes I do some tests on my side, and I make him try them. He also asks me to translate certain ideas into the kitchen, based on what is inspiring him. It is exciting!
Antonin, tell us about your – almost fortuitous – encounter with this former butcher’s shop.
In 2018, my meat, intended for Quinsou, arrived at the butcher’s nearby. I had always thought it was a beautiful place. And then, during an informal discussion in the neighbourhood, I found out it was for sale, and I seized the opportunity! I did some work in the early summer of 2019, and we opened in July.
How did you go about its transformation?
The butcher’s shop was historic and had long belonged to the Bajon family. We kept 99% of it and changed the blinds and redid the walls to give them back their shine. We have also done a lot of work in the back of the shop to create a preparation area where we carry out our culinary preparation. I also added changing rooms and a storeroom. Then we took care of the entire refrigeration system to make sure the place was as good as it could possibly be. As part of our offer, I selected breeders that I knew for their work and their commitment, and we chose to work on whole carcasses so as to use every scrap of the meat. This means that we can pass the small pieces of meat over into dishes and breathe some of Quinsou’s cuisine into the butcher’s shop!
Above all, you are the chef of the Michelin-starred restaurant Quinsou. How has this experience been put to good use now you have this new artisan butcher’s hat on? And vice versa.
I learn something new every day! I’m beginning to understand now that it is a totally different job from being a chef. I thought it would be clearer, but it’s complex, it meets other requirements, other expectations. The one thing that the restaurant side taught me was that my level of requirements, my vision and my wishes were very precise. Consequently, it was easier for me to set up specifications and to give an impetus in terms of quality. It also allowed us to open the terrace on sunny days to serve specialities at the table.
How do you link these two businesses on a daily basis?
I spend my mornings going back and forth from the butcher’s shop to the restaurant to maintain a sensible link between the two. You can hardly see me on the pavement any more (Laughs)! The two establishments are 20 metres apart, which makes it easy to talk to each other. We value the meat producers, of course, with our orders that serve both the butcher’s shop and the restaurant now. I also sell pâtes from Roland Feuillas, whose flours I’ve already used to make my bread, and Anatra’s preserves… We used to work with the meat on the carcasses, but we are in a more comfortable situation today. The shop gives us freedom with space, with larger cold rooms and a wide choice of meats. Previously, we used to receive them whole, but we had to cut them right away in the restaurant. We also had to manage large stocks while still preserving quality, which was a complicated exercise with a small cold room. I can also adapt my menus according to the meats received at the butcher’s shop to obtain the quintessence in terms of quality and freshness. I choose as I please, and at Quinsou, I enjoy freedom in what I cook and, therefore, pass on to the customers.
What are the criteria that your suppliers must respect to fit in with the butcher’s shop’s very rigorous selection process?
Livestock producers must work in harmony with the land and the environment. They may well produce the food for the animals themselves, and take time over raising them. We are not into intensive rearing. At La Boucherie Grégoire, our youngest chickens are 100 days old. We have pure breeds. Its a small luxury, but we want to offer quality meat rather than quantity. At a fair price (for breeders).
Tell us about your products.
As I told you, we want to offer quality meat. To achieve this, we work closely with our producers. Those with whom we are in regular contact: Anne-Laure Jolivet for veal, Béatrice Passa for poultry, Charlotte Salat for beef and La Gruzardière farm for pigs. It’s an opportunity to put them in the spotlight! Also, we don’t want to have multiple pieces. For example, there are two sweetbreads on a carcass. So if we have a calf, we will only have two for sale. We are aware that we cannot just be cutters. Our way of working with meat is also a way of communicating about a new type of consuming. We make our own sausages, pâtés and terrines because we work with whole carcasses so that we can use the meat in its entirety. We develop these recipes ourselves, using the knowledge of cooking we have from Quinsou.
And their cooked variations are inseparable from an establishment like yours!
Traditional home-made sausages, but reworked as I wanted them to be. For example, I have cooked kimchi which is Korean, which I sell vacuum-packed at the butcher’s shop and I also have some inside. Which is a very personal take on it! I grew up in the Cévennes, and I also cooked quail stuffed with chard and fresh herbs because I love it.
What does La Boucherie Grégoire have in store for us in the next few months?
We are going to market a “Turkey Kit” for the festive season, designed for cooking the bird in the best possible way. We have designed everything so that it won’t be an ordeal: a top-quality ready-prepared bird, a kilo of home-made chestnut stuffing, toasted bread sauce and a home-made poultry stock, all accompanied by herbs for cooking, an explanatory leaflet and a nice tote bag to put it all in. We have also launched our e-shop to sell in Paris and the Paris region. And on sunny days, we will reinstate the terrace and offer service on the spot!
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily