Inside the kitchen of the Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine
When they’re in Toronto, big name chefs like Alain Ducasse, Michele Forgione and David Chang make a point of visiting Afrim Pristine’s Cheese Boutique. The family-run 46-year-old shop stocks the country’s most eclectic selection of cheeses (including a 10-foot log of provolone that weighs 900 pounds).
Four months ago, Pristine moved into this Bloor West rental, one of three apartments in a handsome Victorian. “The kitchen is twice the size of my old one, which is great,” says Pristine, though he would love to swap out the glass-top stove for an induction cooktop. “Really though, I’m the shoemaker who doesn’t wear the shoes. I don’t like fancy kitchen toys that much—I never even had a microwave until now,” he says.
The maître fromager (one of only six in Canada) starts his day with a Nespresso espresso and some in-season stone fruit (right now that means Carolinian peaches). He then walks his rescue dogs, Henry and Charlie. At 6 a.m., Pristine heads to work, where he’ll have a second espresso. “If I have more than that, I start to run up the walls like Spiderman,” he says. Too busy buzzing about the shop to give in to hunger pangs, Pristine won’t eat anything until around 4 p.m. (usually something fresh from the oven, like a samosa).
On nights when he’s too tired to cook, Pristine makes an evening meal of bread with an assortment of dips, cured meats and cheeses. Otherwise, he’s a big fan of breakfast for dinner (he actually never eats eggs in the morning). Another go-to: strip loin done in his Le Creuset grill pan. “It’s my favourite cut—it has great marbling, but isn’t overly fatty.” Pristine does most of his grocery shopping at Cheese Boutique, but in a crunch, he’ll pop over to Rowe Farms or The Healthy Butcher for meat and cheese, or to Fresh and Wild for produce.
Pristine is a candy fanatic and always has a convenience store’s worth of sugary stuff on hand. “I have to have enough candy for when Cory Vitiello comes over,” he says. Candy is the only sweet Pristine will snack on (otherwise he’s a savoury guy with a penchant for gas station beef jerky):
Pristine loves popcorn. Right now he has four different varieties of kernels to choose from:
This wedge knife is used to crack open wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano; it was originally Pristine’s grandfather’s knife. “It’s 46 years old, and we estimate that it was used to crack about 20,000 wheels,” he says. Pristine retired the knife in 2005 after he caught an employee using it to pry the lid off a steel feta container (they should have used a crowbar).
Those Illy espresso cups (to the left of the Rice Krispies mug) belonged to Pristine’s parents. The collector’s items sell for about $100 each. Pristine never drinks from them:
Here are a few of his cookbooks:
And here are his pups: