“Romeo Baudouin is the most talented charcutier in Australia, by far, far. He is an ambassador for France.”
That’s Guillaume Brahimi, one of the most respected and lauded French chefs in Australia. He and Baudouin know each other well. They worked together at Guillaume restaurant when it was at Bennelong and just a few months ago sat down for lunch with Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
Since Baudouin arrived in Sydney in 2000, his pâté, terrines and sausages have been widely recognised as either the only of their kind, or the best of their kind in Sydney. Before starting Romeo’s Fine Foods, he was the head chef at Sydney’s most esteemed and influential butchery, Victor Churchill, for nine years.
Before that he worked at Restaurant Seven, a former Japanese-French fine diner on Bridge Street. In England, where he lived in his 20s, he made charcuterie for Harrods and for the Queen.
Baudouin started his trade in 1993, as a 16-year-old. His first two years in his cousin’s business were enough to make him want to quit forever. “It was too tough, and my cousin was a real bastard,” he says. “In your apprenticeship you do the shitty jobs – well, the basic stuff. You clean pig trotters, burn pigs’ heads, take out the brains, peel 200 kilograms of onions. It was cold, a dirty job.”
At the same time his friends were at school, partying on the weekend without a concern for their future careers. “It’s black and white,” Baudouin says. “You’re at school then you’re being treated like a full-time worker but you’re 16. Forget your holidays. Your life is upside down. You work Easter, you work Christmas, you work the weekends.”
It was hard, but even among all his potential regrets, something clicked. “I did know, even though there were so many negative things with this job, I could do something with this. I could see so many [opportunities].” He later moved to London where, after a brief flirtation with designing clothes, we meet up with the afore- mentioned achievements.
Baudouin is a rarity now because very few people endure the trials of an apprenticeship, or even think of trying. “Not many young French kids say, ‘I want to be a charcutier’,” Brahimi says. “It’s getting rare. It’s a beautiful finished product but it’s not very glamorous. It’s not like going to the market to pick the best vegetable or the fish market for the best fish. You make terrine with offal.”
Even fewer charcutiers make it to Sydney. “When I came to Sydney [in 2000], there was nothing,” Baudouin says. “Food at that time, it was not like in France or Italy where it’s a way of life. Here it was just, ‘I need to put something in my mouth’.”
Sydney and Australia’s food culture has evolved since then. But while many more people make charcuterie hardly anyone makes rillette, blood pudding or saucisson (a dry-cured, fermented pork sausage) like Baudouin. He’s old school.
Many of his recipes and methods haven’t changed since he was 16 and were passed down generationally in his cousin’s family. Except for a few modern mincing and shaping tools, his sau- sages, pâtés and terrines are made the same way charcutiers made them 50 years ago.
But recipes aren’t what sets Baudouin apart. It’s his experience. “You can’t just do this for a couple of months and get it,” he says. “Everything needs to be very precise and focused. It’s not like cooking [where] you can fix it up along the way. You can’t make mistakes. You pay for them.” This is the reason Brahimi, Anthony Puharich (of Vic’s Meats and Victor Churchill), Luke Mangan, so many other big hospitality names and just about everyone in the French community admire his work.
For Bauduoin though, there’s just one person he really wants to hear from: his cousin, who’s still in France and has never come here to try his charcuterie. “He gave me everything. If my cousin told me he loved it, it would be the best compliment I could ever get,” he says. “If you gave a crystal ball to 16-year-old me and said, ‘Twenty-five years later you will sit next to the French president for lunch in Sydney, and you will have served the Queen.’ Of course, I would not have believed it. You’re just doing charcuterie, just cutting pigs. It’s hard work but this gives you experience you can’t buy. It’s priceless.”
There is a Romeo’s Fine Food pop-up shop at 117b Macleay Street, Potts Point from Saturday April 6 (no end date yet), Thursday to Sunday 11am to 7pm. He's be selling his terrine, rillette, Paris-style ham, boudin noir and many more products.
Romeo’s Fine Food products can be found at Harris Farm and Simon Johnson stores, Carriageworks Farmers Markets, Hudson Meats butcheries, and Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills.