When most people are asked what they cannot live without, some respond with a delicious brand of chocolate, their favorite stuffed animal or their dearest loved ones. For Jason Sobocinski, owner and head chef at Caseus, that love is cheese.
At a Wednesday Branford College Master’s Tea, Sobocinski reflected on his culinary experiences and outlined his future goals in the cheese industry in front of a crowd of roughly 30 students. Caseus, Sobocinski’s local cheese shop and restaurant, sells more than 100 professionally aged artisan cheeses and other gourmet goods in its retail space while serving critically acclaimed cheese-focused meals in its bistro. Sobocinski discussed his career that led him to open Caseus as well as his philosophy that dining should be an experience.
“I love the idea of a business that has a name that everyone pronounces differently, because it strikes up a conversation. And that’s a big part of what we are — a conversation,” he said. “I want you to come [to Caseus], cram chow and leave with something you’ve learned and that you can take away, and that you’ve actually educated your palette.”
While pursuing a master’s degree in gastronomy from Boston University, Sobocinski worked as a baker at the Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge from 3 a.m. until 11 a.m. and spent the rest of his time studying the anthropology of food — how one’s food choices defines him or her as a person, he said. While working at Formaggio Kitchen, he decided to move back to New Haven, where he had grown up, to open a cheese shop and restaurant, Caseus.
Sobocinski said he opened the restaurant in addition to the retail store as a way to use leftover cheese from the store as cooking ingredients. The restaurant also allows cheese to become more approachable to customers who may be unfamiliar with the large variety of cheeses available, he said. He added that he hopes Caseus customers leave having learned about a new dish or product that they had not previously tasted or having experienced a meal that they want to share with others in the future.
“The bistro allows people to feel less intimidated about cheese,” he said. “It’s inherently intimidating and a lot of people don’t know much about where it came from, how it’s made [or] why it looks so funny. But if I take something like [cheese] and turn it into something that has nostalgia, like a grilled cheese sandwich or mac and cheese, then it’s very approachable and you are willing to try it.”
The Caseus Food Truck, bought by Sobocinski and his brother, developed as an alternative to Caseus because of the restaurant’s relatively high prices that result from using local ingredients, Sobocinski said. He added that he “loved the idea of street food, because it’s simple and straightforward.” The Caseus Food Truck only serves grilled cheese and soup.
Sobocinski said he is currently developing a cheese manufacturing company in Mystic, Conn.
Five audience members interviewed said they appreciated the humorous and lively way Sobocinski engaged with the students.
Alexis Wise ’13, who has eaten at Caseus three times, said she thinks it was great for students to hear from an entrepreneur from the local New Haven area.
Doris Lin ’16 said Sobocinski related well with audience members and was enthusiastic about his food and career throughout the talk.
“If the atmosphere in the restaurant is like the one he created in the Master’s House, then I definitely want to check it out,” Lin said.
Sobocinski published “Caseus Fromagerie Bistro Cookbook” featuring his recipes in November 2011.