When sitting down to dinner at Bondir in Concord Massachusetts, one word came immediately to mind: comfortable. I’d never eaten there before, nor had I visited Bondir Cambridge, yet I felt instantly at ease. There’s something special in that kind of dining experience. That experience is thanks in large part to chef/owner Jason Bond. I spoke with Jason about his passion for food, how he got in to cooking, and his personal food memories.
Behind the Pass: When did things start for you in terms of discovering you had an interest in food?
Jason Bond: I think that I always liked eating. I was a good eater. I grew up in a family that did a lot of cooking, especially both my grandmothers. The whole family – both sides – lived pretty close to each other in northern Wyoming, so everybody had big gardens. Gardening, preserving, it was always a big part of how we eat. Cooking was always like a present, growing up. I never really knew about it as a profession until I was in college, and just worked in restaurants for a job.
One of those, it could have been my second restaurant job, I worked for a few people who had moved from Los Angeles to open a brew pub. This was in Kansas State University in the early ’90s. That sort of thing, nobody knew about that sort of thing at that time, especially in Kansas. These people from Los Angeles came out, and they kind of taught me that there was a world outside of just looking for a job – there were actually people who do this professionally – like professional chefs.
They worked for Wolfgang Puck, so I learned who he was, and read all of his cookbooks. I learned about The Culinary Institute of America, and so I bought those cookbooks and read them, because that’s how I fell into it, buying books. Buying just any kind of basic book and reading it cover to cover, like Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. I’d read it cover to cover. I was so into it, I would walk around with them all the time. If I had a minute I would sit down, and for a couple of years in college, when I was really starting to get into it, you’d never see me without a book on me. I was in the zone, I guess.
The last couple years of college I thought seriously about what I wanted to do, and I decided, after college, to really pursue cooking seriously, and so I moved to the east coast. At that point I had read about lots of chefs, and I had been cooking for a few years, so I started pursuing the chefs I wanted to work for, and I chose the east coast because, more of the people I was interested in lived out here, cooked out here.
It just seemed a little more European-focused than the west coast, which I liked, and so basically that was it. You just find somebody you want to work for and you call them constantly, until they finally agree to let you come work for them.
BtP: (Laughs) If nothing else, it shows initiative and persistence.
JB: Exactly. Things they want to see in the kitchen.
BtP: Now, did you have any formal training before proceeding into the kitchen?
JB: Not really. I had checked out a culinary school, and it ended up not really being right for me. I had already been cooking for a few years at that point, so I investigated, but I ended up not really being the school type. Especially at that point, because I was done with college, I was a little bit older, I’d made a decision, so I was probably a little bit more serious than the typical culinary school student, and at that point I was very focused on what I wanted to do, and I didn’t really have any time or the patience for school stuff anymore. I decided I was ready to go ahead at that point.
BtP: So, what would your advice be to somebody that was interested in getting involved in the culinary industry?
JB: Well when I was starting to look at doing this for a living, the culinary schools had requirements that you had to have. I don’t think they have the same requirements anymore, and I think that’s too bad, because, yeah, you simply have to do it. You have to decide if you love it enough to really do it, because that’s ultimately the key. It’s very hard. It’s physically painful, and it can be emotionally painful. So you have to love it to do it.
I think experience, just really getting into a kitchen, spending a year there, and putting in the time and then just considering, “How much do you like it?” Whether you go to school or not, there’s probably plenty of people that go to school and have great experiences. It’s just right for some people. Other people might be better to take that twenty to forty thousand dollars and go to Europe for a year.
On thing school does is it exposes you to a wide variety of topics. It exposes you to how to bartend, and how to serve, how to make croissants, and how to roast chicken. It doesn’t always give you a lot of experience, though, and that’s the weak point of schools. But they give you a lot of exposure to a lot of different aspects of the industry versus if you just start working in a restaurant. I think getting some experience first and really being sure you love it is a smart thing to do before you put a bunch of money in to school.
BtP: You mention how hard it can be working in the kitchen. What is it, for you, that brings you back every day?
JB: I just think it’s a constant challenge. To me, I think it is a hard job. A lot of the elements of being successful at this job are just being rigorous and repetitive and really boring stuff, but to do it well requires that you are very thoughtful about what you are doing, and that you pay attention. The difference between a roast chicken and an excellent roast chicken is how much attention you’re paying to every little detail of it, and technically how good are you at doing each of those little details. To me, it is a difficult job, which means there’s a challenge in every day. Every day it’s challenging. Every day I have the opportunity to learn, and teach myself as well as other people.
BtP: Yeah, I think it’s when we’re not challenged that we take a step back and start to do a poor job. So I wanted to talk about your cooking philosophy and how you put your menus together. Your menu at Bondir changes constantly. Can you talk a little bit about your menu planning and your use of local ingredients?
JB: So when I was in college I was a music major and I sort of started orchestral music. A lot of the daily practices – each of the practices were eight hours a day – and a good chunk of that was just orchestral excerpts. Basically, the goal of practicing those excerpts was to be able to play these things as well as anybody in the world could play them.
If you want to go and audition for a gig – say I wanted to work as a flautist in the orchestra – I’d have to be able to play these excerpts as well as anybody in the world could do it. That was always the goal, of going for a world-class level, and even though I changed medium from music to cooking, it still echoes. I’m trying to push myself to be a professional and do what I do as best as I can, and trying to find the very best ingredients
The format of a menu comes out as simply wanting to find the best ingredients and it’s kind of a symptom of that. Each item on the menu hopefully represents a specific ingredient or a specific producer, or it’s a story about something that we think is special.
BtP: My final question for you. Everybody that loves food always seems to have a lot of good food-related memories. Do you have a particular food-related memory that stands out to you?
JB: Let’s see, it’s not really that exciting. I can remember, once a year we’d have artichokes for dinner, growing up as a kid, and that was always a big treat. But it was really simple, a steamed artichoke we’d dip in butter, and that was an extravagance back when I was a kid in Wyoming
Asparagus was always a big thing for me, because my grandparents on my father’s side had a pretty good ranch, and asparagus grew all over. It grew along all the fence lines, so as a kid, I’d be sent out to pick asparagus quite a bit. It was a lot of fun. They had some cattle, too, so particularly as you were about to move cattle into a new field, you’d be sent out to collect the asparagus before the cows got to it. I like asparagus a lot. I guess because I grew up with a lot of it. No dramatic memories. Just simple stuff.
Jason is the chef/owner of Bondir, with two locations in Cambridge and Concord, Massachusetts. Bondir Cambridge is located at 279A Broadway in Cambridge, MA. Bondir Concord is located at 24 Walden Street in Concord, MA.