Little Donkey, Jamie Bissonnette, and musings on food writing…

Its always fascinating to me to watch the organized chaos of a restaurant kitchen, the constant flow of runners bringing out plate after plate to a sea of hungry diners, and the hustle of servers trying to ensure that each one of those diners leaves happy and full. In these moments, I always feel a draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

So, why now? Its been almost 2 years since the last time I published something on Behind the Pass. There have been plenty of night’s out in that span. What made August 25th, a Thursday night dinner with friends at Little Donkey in Cambridge, matter more than others? The answer is simple… memories.

On this particular night, some of the stronger memories that I have when it comes to writing about food were jarred loose. So, if you’ll indulge me a remembrance, I’ll take you back to the beginning of Behind the Pass, formerly known as The Foodie Journal.

“Starting a blog is easy, keeping it going is harder…”

Everyone and their uncle seemed to have a blog at the time, and even more so now. I believe it possible that, if her fluency with the written word in English were better, my 73 year-old Portuguese mother might just have a blog herself (She has 3,500+ followers on Pinterest. Seriously.) So, starting a blog wasn’t an issue. Figuring out how to keep it going was the hard part.

When I started The Foodie Journal, I knew I wanted to write about two things: food and restaurants. While my love of food is sincere, my know-how pales in comparison to the myriad other food bloggers that exist. In that aspect, I felt there was  minimal way to set myself apart. Similarly, with respect to restaurant reviews, I felt I didn’t have the authority (I must be missing the ‘Yelp’ gene that so many others have).

After a few fits and starts, my attention shifted to restaurant kitchens and those in the thick of it. The chef. Individuals who have made the conscious decision to stand on their feet hour after hour in blazing hot kitchens, working their hardest while everyone on the other side of the pass is feasting and wining (or whining, depending on the individual). But, where do you start? How do you get a foot in the door?

On April 12th, 2012 I read an article about a rising star Boston chef by the name of Jamie Bissonnette. It was the first time that Jamie had been nominated for a James Beard Award (he would go on to win Best Chef – Northeast in 2014). I thought, ‘It would be wicked cool to maybe interview him and talk a little about the whole ‘getting nominated for a Beard award‘ thing.’ So, given that I had absolutely ZERO connections in the food industry, I went the only route I could think of to reach out to him.

I sent him a tweet asking for an interview. About an hour later, I received a direct message response back on Twitter:

… I had zero writing cred. I wasn’t affiliated with any of the relevant food sites at the time – just a knucklehead wanna-be blogger. My expectation wasn’t for a negative response, but simply NO response. Instead, I got a ‘Love to. Email me’.

Jamie was the first chef I ever interviewed in any way. To this day, I still view that interview exclusively as a kindness on his part. Obviously, any type of interview leads to some level of exposure. Even if only 5 people read it, its good attention for the person being interviewed. But, that interview was a boon for my writing if for no other reason than having given me the courage to reach out to more and more chefs. Months later, Jamie went on to give me more of his time for a second interview, and the opportunity to spend a day kicking around the kitchen at Toro in Boston. I owe him quite a lot, even if he doesn’t realize it. Thanks, Jamie.

Little Donkey

The night of our dinner at Little Donkey, Jamie was working the pass. Shortly after being seated, we were greeted by the incomparable Katy Chirichiello, general manager extraordinaire (Katy was the assistant GM at Toro when I hung out there forever ago). Halfway through dinner, I ran in to food & lifestyle photographer Huge Galdones (if you frequent food sites or read Food & Wine, you’ve seen some of Huge’s photographs, I guarantee you). Dinner was rapidly becoming an unexpected game of ‘This is your (blogging) life’! As if all that wasn’t reason enough to get me in front of my computer to do more than my typical 9-to-5 shenannigans, the food (my God the food) clinched it.

Little Donkey has only been open a few months. In my experience, most restaurants don’t really hit stride until they’ve been open for several. I state this opinion for no reason other than to marvel at the meal we had. If my count is correct, I believe we had 13 dishes (or roughly half of the available menu that night). Thinking over each of those dishes, I have yet to pick out a single thing I disliked. The only complaint I could express is that by the final plate, a dessert of mango curd on Ritz crackers (obviously), I was too full to steal everyone else’s.

My favorites on the night included the BLT lettuce wraps, the burger, and the Texas smoked short rib. Even as I typed that, my brain was basically yelling, ‘OH, AND THE SILVER QUEEN CORN. THE CHOW FUN AND THE KIMCHI FRIED RICE TOO. THAT WAS AWESOME! OH, AND THE OCTOPUSOKLETSGOTHERERIGHTNOWI’MSTARVING!!!’

It was a good night.

On Food Writing

By most accounts, writing is a very lonely act. Granted, the act of sitting at a keyboard or with pen and paper in hand is singular. When writing about food, however, I personally have never felt that way. My version of food writing always involves memories. Remembering who I was with on a given night, what we ate, what we talked about. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that food is never really ‘just food’. More often than not, its an experience. Experiences that stay with you long after you’ve paid the bill, or moved to the couch and unbuttoned your pants. Its in those experiences that I feel it. The draw to start writing about the restaurant industry again.

To Jamie Bissonnette and the whole team at Little Donkey: Thanks for the reminder.

Meatless Monday Recipes: Spiced Pumpkin Risotto courtesy of inSHAPE

Spiced pumpkin is truly a fall favorite, and we will likely be using it quite a lot this season. Pumpkins came early and are already so tasty. Here’s a tasty dish that you can make and enjoy as a side dish or as your main for Meatless Monday. Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Spiced Pumpkin Risotto courtesy of inSHAPE”

Meatless Monday Recipes: Bulgur-shuka courtesy of inSHAPE

Tomatoes and eggs are two of my favorite foods! One of these days, I’m going to have an egg-laying hen or two, and we already grow tomatoes on the fire escape at my apt. Bulgur-shuka is a hearty take on Shakshuka, a Mediterranean dish that we’ve published several times.

In this version, we stuck to a marinara seasoned sauce and added simply cooked bulgur for texture. Was the perfect weekend dish for our entire family!

Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Bulgur-shuka courtesy of inSHAPE”

Meatless Monday Recipes: Pumpkin Soup courtesy of inSHAPE

The pumpkin is a beloved, if not difficult, ingredient in hearty autumn dishes. A large squash that is equally satisfying in both savory and sweet dishes, the pumpkin deserves a spot on everyone’s table! This tasty soup is surprisingly easy to prepare and tastes great. Coupled with a green salad, your Monday dinner will become an event to celebrate.

Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Pumpkin Soup courtesy of inSHAPE”

Meatless Monday Recipes: Eggplant Parmesan courtesy of inSHAPE

With the chill in the air, its hard not to start thinking of autumn. Eggplant is an autumn delight, and the parmesan style of preparing it remains a favorite. However, the thinly cut, heavily breaded style is boring and a little too heavy on the starchy carbs. So, we did some research and came up with a flavorful version that is twice baked. With whole wheat or quinoa pasta, this dish is a testament to the diminished value of meat on the plate! Cheers to Meatless Monday!

Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Eggplant Parmesan courtesy of inSHAPE”

Meatless Monday Recipes: Screaming Succotash courtesy of inSHAPE

Foods ladened with flavorful spices achieve several goals in your healthy eating life. They boost your metabolism, decrease inflammation, and may contribute to a healthier digestive system. This yummy version of succotash is fresh, crunchy and full of flavor. Topped with cayenne dusted ricotta and broccoli sprouts, your taste buds will be as tickled as your waistline.

Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Screaming Succotash courtesy of inSHAPE”

Meatless Monday Recipes: Green Tomato Parmesan courtesy of inSHAPE

Green tomatoes don’t get the praise of their riper brethren but they taste terrific when prepared well. With a low fat buttermilk coating and blended breading, they satisfy without overdoing it on the processed carbs and calories.

Continue reading “Meatless Monday Recipes: Green Tomato Parmesan courtesy of inSHAPE”