Flashback: 2012 James Beard Foundation Award nominee – Jaime Bissonnette

I’ve decided to republish this piece for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it reminded me that there is just one month left for nomination submissions for the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards. This is an opportunity for any one with a sincere love for the food industry to make sure their favorite restaurants and chefs get the attention they deserve. The James Beard Foundation is accepting nominations through the end of the year. So, if you haven’t yet, get your nominations in for the restaurant and chef related awards!

The second reason I wanted to republish is a pretty simple one. Thinking back on this past year, it has been a whirlwind (for many reasons beyond just The Foodie Journal!). This interview with Chef Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa and Toro (and, very soon, Toro NYC), was where it all started. I’ll be forever grateful for his willingness to help out a fledgling writer who just happened to send him a tweet out of nowhere.

I suppose there’s a third reason. Since this was written, the number of people that take a look at The Foodie Journal has grown considerably. So, for any newbie followers… this is where it really all began. Enjoy!


Fans of any of the competitive cooking shows (Top Chef, Iron Chef America, etc.) are undoubtedly aware of the James Beard Foundation. For those of you that aren’t, the James Beard Foundation is a non-profit organization that is at the center of America’s culinary community. They’ve dedicated themselves to supporting cooking hopefuls by providing 100′s of thousands of dollars annually in scholarship opportunities and professional grants. They help to make the culinary community in America better! As a part of that, they further promote the culinary scene by honoring those involved: chefs, sommeliers and other wine professionals, restauranteurs, cookbook authors, and journalists. These honors are known as the James Beard Foundation Awards. To us foodies, they are our Academy Awards! :)

A few weeks back, the James Beard Foundation released the nominations for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards. This year, in the category of Best Chef: Northeast, Boston got an excellent tip of the hat by having two chefs nominated. One of them was Jaime Bissonnette, owner and chef of Coppa and Toro in Boston. Jaime is all about nose-to-tail cooking (offal anyone?), and is dedicated to supporting local purveyors. I had the opportunity to have a few words with Jaime about the honor.

Jamie Bissonette - Photo by Heath Robbins

Jaime Bissonette – Photo by Heath Robbins

Foodie Journalist: What impact do you feel the James Beard Foundation has had in recent years on gastronomy in America?
Jaime Bissonnette: James Beard was one of the most heart filled chefs. What his legacy has done for our community has been epic. The James Beard House is the mecca for chefs. His books are relevant now, and will continue to influence chefs for a long time.

FJ: The James Beard Foundation Awards are considered the “Oscars of the food world”. How does it feel to be nominated?
JB: Being nominated was something I never considered. Having my name listed with a group of people I respect is mind blowing. Knowing that my peers would consider me is overwhelming.

FJ: My understanding is that once you’ve won a James Beard Award, you’re no longer eligible to be nominated. So is this one of those circumstances where it might be better to lose, but be nominated year after year? Having your name mentioned year after year can’t be a bad thing, obviously. Or, does the competitive drive kick-in and you decide “Screw that, I want to win”?
JB: I had always stated that I never thought I would be deserving of winning a James Beard Award. Being nominated is epic. If I win, that’s fantastic. If Matt Jennings wins, that’s rad. Maybe I’ll never get a nom again, maybe I’ll win. I think that winning would be great for my teams. They are just as deserving of a nom as I am. They can hold the places down.

FJ: It’s been just under a month since the announcement of the nominees. Has being nominated for the award changed anything for you? How you’re perceived in your restaurants, or by others in the industry? More diners at Coppa or Toro?
JB: Mostly I have seen it through the community. Friends and other chefs calling, e-mailing and sending notes of congratulations. No too much at Coppa or Toro.

FJ: So, win or lose, what do you have planned for the near future?
JB: Either way, I’ll be in NYC for the awards with tons of friends from all over the country. We’ll have great meals together, celebrate and just enjoy each others company. And we will all probably drink too much.

The James Beard Foundation Awards Gala will be held on Monday, May 7th @ Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. While we wait on the results, make sure to stop in at Coppa for one of the best meals you can have in Boston (my wife is a sucker for the arancini)! You might just get the chance to see Jaime and wish him luck.

From the Boston area? How excited are you to hear that a local boy was nominated for such a prestigious award? Let us know by leaving feedback in the comments. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook!

Chatting with Chef Hiro Sone

He’s a James Beard Award winning chef. Both his restaurants, Ame in San Francisco and Terra in St. Helena, have been awarded one Michelin star multiple times, the former also garnering best new restaurant awards from the Zagat Guide and Esquire Magazine when it first opened. Chef Hiro Sone has earned the right to think highly of himself, yet during our brief exchange there was no such attitude. Instead, I found a passionate man from humble beginnings who has nothing but the utmost respect for the ingredients he transforms, and the diners he serves.

Hiro Sone

Foodie Journalist: You were nominated a few times for the James Beard award for Best Chef before you finally won it in 2003. Did it ever bother you to not have won those first years you were nominated?
Hiro Sone: Did not bother me at all.  I’m not a good speaker in front of thousands of people, and the winner has to make some speech on the stage. So when I found out I didn’t have to come up on stage I was so happy.

FJ: Does being a “James Beard Award Winning Chef” change things at all?
HS: I remember a few days later after the JBA, I was in my kitchen and found one of the drains clogged. So I snaked the drain to clear it and I opened the grease trap to remove the stinky grease, and I was thinking, “Wow, I just won the Best Chef of California award. Why am I still cleaning this grease trap?”  It actually made me laugh, it was so funny. So my answer to you is nothing has changed, and I do what I like to do and what I need to do.

But, I really appreciate the recognition. There are so many hard working and talented chefs out there, and they deserve the same recognition I got. I’m just a lucky man.

FJ: I visited your restaurant in St. Helena, Terra, a few years back. The entire menu and experience in general was brilliant. It was one of my first experiences with foie gras actually. We’re coming up on the end of the grace period for the foie ban in California. Obviously, once the ban takes full affect you have to live by it. But, how do you feel about it as a chef?
HS: Sonoma Foie Gras is one of the greatest products we have in California. Californians should be proud of this little farm instead of terminating it. It was an easy target for the animal rights people and for a politician who likes to put his name on new laws only for his legacy, without correct research.

Most responsible chefs study the ingredients before they put it on their menus. They go through the exercise of standard routine, “Is this safe? Is this reliable? Is this sustainable? Is this organic? Is this local? Is this humane?” What is “the humane way” anyway?  We must discuss what “real world humane” is, and not “Disney world humane”.

FJ: For a chef that has been in the industry and worked with some of the most renowned chefs in the world, what is it that drives you to keep cooking?
HS: I think that, number one, is the guests’ smile. I always feel like giving our guests pleasure gives me pleasure. A restaurant can create some little happiness for  guests when they are dining in the restaurant, where they can forget about work, they can enjoy themselves and recharge themselves for tomorrow. Number two is teaching young cooks, and watching how they grow. Being able to visit their restaurants.

FJ: Finally, why is it that you love food and cooking? And, is there a particular memory or food experience or memory that really speaks to you?
HS: The feel. Like music, you don’t have to have a language to understand food.  Food is universal. Only thing you need is an open heart. Also respect.  You must respect your ingredients. The least we can do as cooks is to use whole animal (or whole vegetable) and make it delicious and make it look good. Don’t waste. Respect farmers and fishermen, because without them we cannot do what we do.

I came from a small farming family who has been growing rice for eighteen generations in northern Japan. I still remember in the fall harvest time, my grandma would be picking the lost grains of rice in the field until complete darkness arrived. Whenever I see the  Jean-François Millet painting “Les Glaneurs (The Gleaners)”, it always reminds me of my grandma and who I am.

Ame Restaurant, in the St. Regis Hotel, is located at 689 Mission Street in San Francisco. Terra Restaurant is located at 1345 Railroad Avenue in St. Helena. Both restaurants are owned by Chef Hiro Sone and Pastry Chef Lissa Doumani.

An interview with 2012 James Beard Foundation Award nominee Jaime Bissonnette

Serious food lovers are undoubtedly aware of the James Beard Foundation. For those of you that aren’t, the James Beard Foundation is a non-profit organization that is at the center of America’s culinary community. They’ve dedicated themselves to supporting cooking hopefuls by providing 100′s of thousands of dollars annually in scholarship opportunities and professional grants. They help to make the culinary community in America better! As a part of that, they further promote the culinary scene by honoring those involved: chefs, sommeliers and other wine professionals, restauranteurs, cookbook authors, and journalists. These honors are known as the James Beard Foundation Awards. To us foodies, they are our Academy Awards! :)

A few weeks back, the James Beard Foundation released the nominations for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards. This year, in the category of Best Chef: Northeast, Boston got an excellent tip of the hat by having two chefs nominated. One of them was Jaime Bissonnette, owner and chef of Coppa and Toro in Boston. Jaime is all about nose-to-tail cooking (offal anyone?), and is dedicated to supporting local purveyors. I had the opportunity to have a few words with Jaime about the honor.

Foodie Journalist: What impact do you feel the James Beard Foundation has had in recent years on gastronomy in America?
Jaime Bissonnette: James Beard was one of the most heart filled chefs. What his legacy has done for our community has been epic. The James Beard House is the mecca for chefs. His books are relevant now, and will continue to influence chefs for a long time.

FJ: The James Beard Foundation Awards are considered the “Oscars of the food world”. How does it feel to be nominated?
JB: Being nominated was something I never considered. Having my name listed with a group of people I respect is mind blowing. Knowing that my peers would consider me is overwhelming.

FJ: My understanding is that once you’ve won a James Beard Award, you’re no longer eligible to be nominated. So is this one of those circumstances where it might be better to lose, but be nominated year after year? Having your name mentioned year after year can’t be a bad thing, obviously. Or, does the competitive drive kick-in and you decide “Screw that, I want to win”?
JB: I had always stated that I never thought I would be deserving of winning a James Beard Award. Being nominated is epic. If I win, that’s fantastic. If someone else wins, that’s rad. Maybe I’ll never get a nom again, maybe I’ll win. I think that winning would be great for my teams. They are just as deserving of a nom as I am. They can hold the places down.

FJ: It’s been just under a month since the announcement of the nominees. Has being nominated for the award changed anything for you? How you’re perceived in your restaurants, or by others in the industry? More diners at Coppa or Toro?
JB: Mostly I have seen it through the community. Friends and other chefs calling, e-mailing and sending notes of congratulations. No too much at Coppa or Toro.

FJ: So, win or lose, what do you have planned for the near future?
JB: Either way, I’ll be in NYC for the awards with tons of friends from all over the country. We’ll have great meals together, celebrate and just enjoy each others company. And we will all probably drink too much.

Jamie Bissonnette is chef and co-owner of Coppa, located at 253 Shawmut Avenue, and Toro, located at 1704 Washington Street in Boston.