This is the first post in our Industry Footprints series, informal interviews with people who really stand above the rest in their particular field. Today we bring you Jeremy Evrard, Restaurant Manager of Caprice, the 3-Michelin starred French restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. Jeremy is to cheese, what sommeliers are to wine. He is filled with an extraordinary supply of knowledge, countless charming stories, and best of all, an endless amount of passion!
What is your background? Why cheese?
I was born on a farm, and have always loved markets and things related to farming. From about the age of 20 I really fell in love with cheese and all its complexities. I always wanted to know where each cheese came from, visit the farms, get to know the farmers, and learn about each environment. Now I deal with about 40 farms in France, most of them the same farmers I knew when I was growing up.
How did this cheese bar come about?
When I first came to Hong Kong, everyone said, “No way, it will never work in a place like this.” I was the restaurant manager of Caprice, and so I started with a small piece of marble and a selection of six cheeses. My customers started to complain that for a French restaurant, the cheeses were no good. This made me really embarrassed! So I started to slowly increase my selection, develop the stories behind each cheese, and make it really personal. Before this area was a private dining room. However due to the demand from customers we proposed the idea of a wine and cheese bar to the hotel – and they agreed!
“Here we offer more than just cheese, we offer the whole experience.”
What are all these extra little things you have in your cellar? Is that a cowbell?
Cheese is alive and needs to be taken care of. I fill my cellar with leather, straw, wood – the environment needs to be good in order for the cheese to mature. If you just store cheese in a fridge, it will stop growing and maturing, and it will die. This pail is the one I used to carry milk in when I was a child, this leather is from my own farm. In this cellar, the cheeses can have a good life surrounded by natural materials and good bacteria.
How do you take care of your cheeses?
I check all the cheeses every day. I don’t even need to taste them anymore, I just smell them and I know. I can tell when a cheese is suffering, I know about the growth of the cow, I know when something is wrong immediately – just by smelling the cheese. We always serve cheese at just the right point of maturation. If a particular cheese isn’t quite ready, we will serve something else.
What makes these cheeses so special, and Caprice Bar so unique?
In the supermarket you may have three types of cheese, but they are all virtually the same, and will stay the same for as long as they’re on the shelf. Here we have a cheese, but if you come back three days later it is changed – the smell, the texture…it’s beautiful. It is not possible to have a cellar like this in Europe. Things like wood are not allowed, and everything must be very clean like in a hospital. Here it may be a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. Cheese makers come here from Europe and tell me, “Wow, you are so lucky.”
“It’s not just Camembert, it’s not just blue. You have to make each cheese come alive.”
All of this cheese can be a little bit overwhelming. How do I even know where to begin ordering?
Most people who come here don’t know cheese. We don’t want to just hand people a menu and expect them to know what they like and which ones to choose. Here we ask our customers what type of cheese they like – hard, soft, strong, creamy. We then take this information and choose the cheeses for you. When we bring you your plate, you may not know what all the cheeses aer, but they are all to your taste. Then we come and explain what you have just ordered.
What are your favourite wine and cheese pairings?
My favourite white pairing is the Comte Aged 4 years with the Chateau Chalon 2003, which is a dry, yellow sherry with a very aggressive taste. Alone, you may not like it at all. But if you first taste the Comte and then have a sip, you will feel like you are biting into a walnut. Everything has changed.
Cheese goes very well with white. It is far more challenging with red, but everything is possible! My favourite red pairing is a sweet Austrian Ice wine made with pinot noir grapes that is sweet, but fresh and very pleasant. I like to pair it with a classic Roquefort that is creamy, a little bit salty, with blue moisture that has some delicacy and doesn’t kill the palate. When you sip the wine afterwards you taste two flavours – sheep’s milk followed by some sweet spices.
Any parting thoughts?
Eight years ago this would have been impossible in Hong Kong. Now look at this town – people have discovered cheese, they enjoy fine wines. Cheese is unlike wine in that it has a much shorter life span, and most cheeses cannot age for years like wine does. To work with cheese you must really know your product as you have a limited amount of time. It is rare, that is why it is beautiful.