A dil Chokairy grew up in Paris loving crêpes and the rituals that came with them: the coffee and the tea and the catch-ups with friends and family about the unfolding day. Then he grew up some more, moved to the United States and embarked on a career in the banking industry.
“Two hours there seems like six years,” Chokairy says when describing the banking grind. “It’s a very rigid mindset.” As for running his own business, crêperie cart Crêpes Choupette? “Working 16 hours a day feels like 10 minutes.” But that finance experience did carry some silver linings: it helped him improve his English and get a grip on Americans’ tastes. Both have proven to be be valuable assets in his new line of work, for which lines have been known to form. “The feedback has been amazing,” Chokairy says.
“Choupette” is a riff on choupinette, a term of affection from Chokairy’s childhood that carries a meaning similar to “cutie,” “darling” or “sweetheart.” Getting everything in place to start his cart took a year, finally debuting his creations in Pitkin Plaza during the World Cup in June. To honor the occasion, various crêpes were named for star footballers, like the Zidane, a classic Nutella-banana-strawberry combination.
Whatever their ingredients, each crêpe starts as a pool of batter poured into the center of Chokairy’s black round griddle, which he spreads out into a thin, giant, almost perfectly circular pancake. Being so thin, one side of the batter cooks in seconds; so does the other, after it’s been flipped. Folded in half, it’s ready for myriad fillings, and once those are in place, the result is folded again, this time in thirds. Now a stuffed triangular pocket, it slides easily into a stiff, flat paper cup for on-the-go eating.
The most popular crêpe is the namesake Choupette, a $7 medley of fig spread, prosciutto, arugula and goat cheese. Other savory options include the Chatelet, a combination of ham and cheese for $5, and La Seine, marrying turkey, brie and pear for $7. The Francesca, featuring mozzarella, tomato and basil, is a play on the famous local apizza scene. Sweet crêpes include the simple $4 La Marais, sporting lemon and sugar, and a $6 raspberry-jam-and-white-chocolate option called the Piaf. Chokairy says he purchases his ingredients from the farmers’ markets when he can but is forced to make concessions for certain elements like bananas, which simply aren’t grown locally.
Another exception is the specialty salt he procures from a company in Brittany, France, highly sought-after, we’re told, because it’s better for the batter, allowing it to stretch further without breaking. Choupette’s batter, made fresh daily, uses either whole wheat flour for the sweet crêpes or buckwheat for the savories. Chokairy says buckwheat is better for the savory options because it stays out of the way of their subtler-flavored ingredients, letting them shine.
In addition to the salt and flour, the batter contains “milk, eggs, love and hard work,” he says. Viewing crêpes as a sub-genre of bread, he adds that he wants his crêpes to rank among the highest-quality breads in the city.
An enthusiastic consumer of his own cooking, Chokairy estimates that he eats about half a dozen crêpes in the course of a working day. You can find him and his cart downtown Monday through Friday near the corner of York Street and Broadway from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays at the Wooster Square Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He says he’ll continue even in colder months, taking the cart across the squares and sidewalks of New Haven, posting his location on Facebook.
In addition to his regular outdoor spots, Chokairy caters special events with up to 300 guests, though it requires enlisting an assistant and three additional crêpe-making stations to do it. On those occasions, he gets to test himself against what he calls the measure of a great crêpier: their ability to run multiple griddles simultaneously.
It’s a test he could take more regularly if he were working out of a brick-and-mortar shop instead of his current cart, which only has room for one flat-top. Sure enough, Chokairy says he’s thinking about putting Crêpes Choupette on the map with a permanent address, scouting the city for potential storefronts.
Something tells us New Haven could stomach that development.
York and Broadway: Mon-Fri 11:30am-4:30pm (map)
Wooster Square Farmers’ Market: Sat 9am-1pm (map)
Written by Lauren Langford. Photographed by Dan Mims.