"A lot of the things I've done in my life happened because someone else suggested it and I said, 'Well, I might as well try.'"
So far, so good. Over the years Jamie Bissonnette has become one of Boston's most influential chefs. He's won everything from food TV shows (Chopped) to a James Beard Award. (Best Chef: Northeast in 2014, for his work at Coppa.) The punk rock-loving chef made nose-to-tail dining seem accessible and cool to local diners, yet the success of Toro in NYC, a spin-off of his South End original, proves that he and partner Ken Oringer translate easily to larger markets. And next week he tries something new again. On September 16, Bissonnette releases his first cookbook, The New Charcuterie Cookbook: Exceptional Cured Meats to Make and Serve at Home. It's designed to break down (no pun intended) the process of making creative pates, salumi, sausages and more, in a way that is "accessible to everyone," says Bissonnette, "from a regular diner to a plumber to my dad."
We grabbed Bissonnette for a few quick words. And before the book comes out, try your hand at the sample recipe below.
The cookbook will educate readers, but in the course of writing it did you teach yourself anything new?
Probably the Vietnamese sausage. I had been working on that one for years and finally got it done when I was working on the book. Also the white sausage with foie gras. I printed that out and gave it to my chefs.
You were introducing a lot of diners to nose-to-tail dining before it became ubiquitous. Is it gratifying to see it much more widely adopted?
I think it's great that there are more people are becoming educated about it, and as people are getting more of it, that’s huge. Because it means the companies that I’m buying from are willing to put out better product. Before, if I said I want veal brain, it was hard for companies to justify putting in more effort just for my limited little order of veal brain that I go through in a week. But as there’s more demand, more people are using it. And they say, “Let’s find a better supply.”
How did it feel to win the Beard award in May?
It was fucking unbelievable. I was sitting there for my third time nominated, in my suit next to my dad, and they said my name. But it was the way Barbara said: “Jamie Bissonnette takes it!” The way she said it had such a sense of hometown pride. I’ve never worked for her, but I’ve always looked up to her and I’ve always loved and respected what she does. Barbara doesn’t pull any punches, and that you could hear the excitement in her voice only made me more excited. Just hearing my name on that stage alongside those nominees was more than I ever expected. It was unfathomable.
What's been the biggest challenge since opening Toro in NYC?
Confronting the reality that sometimes I need to be able to let go. I'm someone who always wants to be doing things with the chefs, and I want to be in there cooking as much as I can. Living in the South End, if there’s a water main break at Coppa or someone is saying that they can’t get a dish to work tonight, I can get on my scooter and be over there in a minute. Now I’m not in the pit, playing with the orchestra – I’m the conductor. It’s almost an out of body experience. Part of being a chef now is being a teacher. I have to teach others to do what I can’t do when I’m not there.
What can Boston learn from NYC dining, and vice versa?
I don’t want to talk trash about either city, because everybody can learn from everybody. But I think one thing that Boston has that is stronger than most cities is our sense of community. Of course, part of that is just from being in a smaller place; I mean, [Tavern Road chef] Louis DiBiccari lives 500 feet from Toro, so I get to see him when I’m getting my coffee. Here I can run into my friends everywhere.
Where in Boston have you been eating lately?