Back in 2004, New York chef Daniel Boulud came knocking on the door of Gilles Verot, a third- generation master charcutier who presides over two select Paris boutiques. A culinary art that dates back to at least the 15th century, charcuterie is the glorious subset of la cuisine Française that encompasses shaped meat and fish concoctions from pâtés to terrines to quenelles. Verot has become such an artist of charcuterie that many think he’s done for pork products what macaron master Pierre Hermé did for almond flour.
Boulud, who grew up in Lyon, not far from Verot’s hometown of Saint-Étienne, wanted to see what the lauded Parisian deli man was all about. At the end of their initial 40-minute meeting, the chef cancelled his plans to graze Verot’s 200-specimen Ali Baba’s cave of wonders. His verdict: “I think we have to do something together.” That “something” came into focus gradually, first in 2008 with Bar Boulud, the casual West Side boîte built around Verot’s inventions; then in 2009 with a new line of haute links and weiners for DBGB Kitchen and Bar; and most recently at Épicerie Boulud. Among the three locations, a total of about 80 of Verot’s specialties are now available in New York.
The fact that Verot married into the business didn’t hurt; he and his wife Catherine are the joint repository of five generations of pâté-making expertise. The couple met when he was 19 and she was 18, on his first day in Paris. He knocked on his new employer’s door and Catherine, the daughter of the house, opened the door. His passion for her resulted in their marriage five years later; his passion for charcuterie really took flight, says Verot, “when I started to understand what I could make of this job. Not a life like my parents and grandparents, but something very new, very different.”
Recalling his fateful first meeting with Boulud, and then, a week later, his first visit to New York and to restaurant Daniel, Verot says, “It was a coup de foudre (love at first sight) for the town, for the man, and for the restaurant.” Just as Boulud offers his guests both classic French preparations and modern riffs on those, Verot’s offerings extend from classics such as his prize-winning fromage de tête (head cheese) and jambon persillé (terrine of Paris ham in aspic) to a modern repertoire that’s lighter and highly seasonal. One example: his rillette de jamboneau Provençal, pulled ham hock with summer vegetables and basil suspended in a jewel-like jelly of olive oil and meat juices.
Verot, who is working on a cookbook due out in the fall and loves nothing more than gathering friends and family at his home on Sunday around “a good chicken and a good bottle of wine,” says his goal is “to have more and more fun in my job.” He adds, “That’s my way of life now.”