Hugo Desnoyer Paris's Butcher to the Stars

PARIS -- You might call Hugo Desnoyer the butcher to the stars. With an amazing roster of Michelin-starred chefs and equally conscientious bistro owners, this tall, lean, modest 33-year-old has every reason to be proud of his devoted clientele.

Photo of Hugo Desnoyer at his butcher shopI first heard of Hugo from restaurateur Claude Colliot (sadly, now departed from his 7th arrondissment restaurant Bamboche) after commenting on the chef’s fine quality of his lamb and veal. Soon, Desnoyer’s name was being mentioned everywhere, from bistro owner William Bernet of Le Sévero in the 14th arrondissement and on to the very demanding Michelin three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire, with the restaurant that bears his name in the 8th arrondissement.

While growing up in the Mayenne in France’s rich Loire Valley , Hugo dreamed of being a chef but found the milieu not very welcoming. He needed a job, apprenticed to a local butcher, and moved up the ladder as far as his ambitions would take him. He opened his own butcher shop on the rue Mouton-Duvernet in the 14th arrondissment on April 1, 1998. Soon he was drawing the attention of Gagnaire, Bernard Pacaud of the three-star L’Ambroisie, Alain Passard of the three-star L’Arpège, Bernard Guichard of the two-star Jamin, Patrice Barbot of the one-star l’Astrance, as well as the chefs at L’Ami Louis, where lamb, beef, and chicken form the cornerstone of the menu.

When Desnoyer opened the shop he and his wife, Chris, were the only employees. They now number seven, supplying the French minister of education as well as many faithful Parisians who eagerly cross town to sample his tender three-month-old lamb from the Lozère in the center of France, where the animals graze on fragrant wild cumin, pimpernel, and sweet clover; as well as his well-marbled beef from an ancient breed of cow that closely resembles a bison – the Salers – a meat that cooks and diners love for its forward, beefy flavors and, some say, a mild perfume of hazelnuts.

In the small, modest-looking shop, clients also find dozens of ready-to-cook preparations, ranging from veal roast stuffed with ham and cheese; pork roast stuffed with prunes, figs, peaches, or apricots; chicken brochettes marinated with coriander; or chickens boned and stuffed with truffles, wild cèpe mushrooms, apples, or chestnuts.

Each morning at 3 am Desnoyer arrives at the Rungis wholesale market, where his meat and poultry is housed after being transported from his suppliers in the French countryside. He works directly with the farmers, whom he visits on vacation and who have become like members of his family.

Despite the excellent products he finds today, Desnoyer feels that the quality of French meats are not what they once were. “And the reason is quite simple,” notes the butcher. “No young Frenchman today is going to go out, buy land, and start raising a few animals. “

He feels that in France the role of the family farmer has been undervalued, and there is no incentive for farmers to raise quality meats. “Before 1980, almost ALL French meats were top quality. One can’t say that today.” notes Desnoyer.

Despite all that, he notes “It’s crazy. It’s so simple, really. The cow didn’t invent anything. He only eats grass. Everyone, including farmers, are too impatient today, too much in a hurry.”

Despite the long hours, Desnoyer’s reward is, of course, dining in all the fine restaurants he supplies, to see what the chefs are doing to his meats and poultry. His toughest customer is chef Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie, who, according to the butcher, has the highest standards of any chef. The chef who gives him the most pleasure is Pascal Barbot of l’Astrance. “he is just so grateful. He calls all the time to just to say thank you, thank you, and thank you.”

But even the housewives on the street can give him a hard time. “The meat may look great, but be insipid, with absolutely no flavor. If that’s the case, they let me know, for sure.”

Boucherie Hugo Desnoye
25, rue Mouton-Duvernet
Paris 14
Tel: 01 45 40 76 67

Open 7 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 8 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday.