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.

Gadgets for the home kitchen: Immersion circulators

Last week I wrote about the awesomeness that is ChefSteps, an online cooking instruction site with a focus on “cooking smarter” utilizing modern techniques and kitchen gadgetry. A gadget they highly tout, and one that has garnered more and more attention over the past couple of years has been the immersion circulator.

Up until the recent past, circulators were only available to professional kitchens or the particularly adventurous home cook who had cash flow to burn. That, however, is no longer the case. Companies like Anova, Sansaire, Nomiku, and one of the original pioneers in immersion circulator technology, PolyScience, have made efforts to bring the device in to the home kitchen at a much more affordable price.

Continue reading “Gadgets for the home kitchen: Immersion circulators”

Learning to cook… with ChefSteps

I need to learn to cook.

Ok. Yes, I do know how to cook, but that isn’t what I meant. I need to learn to cook well. Like, restaurant well. Given my propensity for wanting to eat restaurant quality food on a regular basis, I need to learn to cook fast lest my bank account decide to find a more doting benefactor (“Always take, take, take. Why don’t you GIVE!!”).

Continue reading “Learning to cook… with ChefSteps”

Lovin’ Spoonfuls Food Rescue: An interview with founder Ashley Stanley

It is something that many of us living in the United States likely take for granted; Knowing, without doubt or fear, where our next meal is coming from. This is, after all, the land of opportunity! Food security shouldn’t be an issue here. And, you’re right. Food security shouldn’t be an issue in the United States. But, just because it shouldn’t be an issue doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

Food security: The availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.

It is something that many of us living in the United States likely take for granted; Knowing, without doubt or fear, where our next meal is coming from. This is, after all, the land of opportunity! Food security shouldn’t be an issue here. And, you’re right. Food security shouldn’t be an issue in the United States. But, just because it shouldn’t be an issue doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

According to a report issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, “14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” That’s approximately 17.6 million households, comprised of 49 million Americans, 15.9 million of those being children.


So what’s to be done in support of those who are struggling with food insecurity? In many major cities in the United States you’ll find organizations that are dedicated to help those in need, and in Boston, it’s no different. We have the privilege of a fantastic organization called Lovin’ Spoonfuls. I had the opportunity to speak with founder Ashley Stanley about the organization, the support that Lovin’ Spoonfuls gets from the restaurant community in Boston, and a personal food memory that represents just how important the work organizations like these do every day.

 Foodie Journal: So how did you come up
with the idea for Loving Spoonfuls?

Ashley Stanley: I kind of hate the
term “a-ha moment”, but something did click and while my background is athletics
and fashion and these things that my life has really focused on for such a long
time, food has been such a fundamental part of my life. It’s been a fundamental
part of my family, and my friends.  Really everything good has revolved
around food. A few years ago, I was looking for a career change.  I was looking for something else to do.  I wasn’t really sure what that was and it was
during the holidays.  I found myself
sitting in a restaurant with plates of uneaten food and tons of leftovers and I
started thinking about portion size and serving size.  During the holidays you always hear about
people in need, charity, and how there isn’t enough for everybody. That was
sort of in the back of my mind because on my table I had enough.  Not
just for me, but for probably five or six other people too.  

FJ: Right.

AS: All I thought about is I can’t be
the only person in the only restaurant at the only table with this much food

I woke up for a few days really
thinking, “Is that message really accurate that there’s not enough?”  Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.  Maybe we’re responding to the wrong
statement.  So I googled the phrase “what
happens with the wasted food” and found the sites for City Harvest and Philabundance,
Food Runners, all of these established food rescues in different parts of the
country.  I called and that’s where
I learned about food rescue clinics.  Here we are a few years later!

FJ: That’s awesome! It’s true,
though. I think portion size is something many of us forget about.  Too many people are just looking for the most
food at the cheapest price and never really stop to think about what they’re
leaving on the plate. Plus, how many times do you really end up finishing a
full plate when you go out to eat at a restaurant?

AS: Yes, and it was just one of those
things and it probably wasn’t the first time I’d been in a restaurant with all
the leftovers and it wasn’t the first time there was an opportunity to maybe
see that that was happening, but it was the first time where it really made
sense to me.  

FJ: So what were the first steps for
you?  How did you actually get to the point of establishing this

AS: Well, they weren’t any linear
steps. First understanding the statistics about food production helped out. One
thing I did was I thought about our market, because I was
reading about waste and I wanted to know if it was food that was coming off of
people’s plates at the end of the night, which you can’t do too much with, or
if it was whole raw product that essentially should be getting used in some
manner.  I found it to be the latter, and
so much of it.  I was stunned. I saw
pallets of eggplants and potatoes and carrots, and sure some of it maybe had
lost some if its marketable or salable value, but not much. When I go
to buy food, if I’m grilling it or putting it in a stew or if I’m cooking it
down, the appearance is less important I think. 
The point is that I was shocked as to what was classified as
eligible for waste.

FJ: Yeah, it’s funny the view we have
of food quality. If we have a garden in our yard, we aren’t going to toss
things we grow ourselves just because they don’t look picture perfect, but in a
grocery store we avoid those items for some reason.

AS: It is a little strange, isn’t it?

FJ: For sure. So what kind of support
have you seen from the restaurant and culinary industry in Boston?

AS: We exist in large part because of
our friends in the restaurant industry. 
I think regardless of what a non-profit mission might be, whether it’s
trying to cure cancer, or something directly related to food, regardless of
what it is the culinary community and the restaurant community always are the
first to say yes.  There’s this seemingly
built in willingness to help your community and that is something we are
forever grateful for.  In terms of food rescue and in terms of Lovin’ Spoonfuls
in particular, I think this is something that chefs, restaurateurs, folks
who’ve been working in this space for a long time feel a particular connection
to because they see first hand the waste that can happen.

We have a culinary panel, which includes
folks like Christopher Meyers who has been in the food space for 30-plus years
in Boston, LA and New York. I remember when I was listing the pros and cons about
potentially starting a food rescue I asked him and Joanne [Chang], “Do you
think this is a good idea?” They said, “Oh my God, yes and you’ve got our
support!”  They’ve been just incredible
supporters and advocates and mentors to us in that space.  You’ve got folks like Jeremy Sewall who has really
helped us to see how to make a difference in our community.  Jaime Bissonnette from Toro is a great friend
of ours and is really committed to whole ingredient cooking which results in
little to no waste in his restaurants. 
Then nationally we have Andrew Zimmern, a great friend of mine, who does
Bizarre Foods and writes columns for Food and Wine and all that.  He’s a fierce advocate for food justice, and
stands behind what Lovin’ Spoonfuls is doing and he’s given me some the best
advice I’ve gotten along the way.  It really has just been an
unbelievable amount of support from people in the industry.

FJ: What type of impact do you think
Lovin’ Spoonfuls had so far?

AS: Well, we rescued, in just about
three and a half years, we’ve rescued just under three-quarters of a million pounds
of food.

FJ: Wow!

AS: Yeah!

FJ: So I usually end interviews
asking for a personal food memory.  For
you I’d like to know if you have a memory specific to the work that you’ve been
doing so far with Lovin’ Spoonfuls?

AS: I do.  It’s actually a
memory from when I was a kid, but then it clicked just after Spoonfuls
started.  My family loves food, we’ve always loved food, and we have
family in New York and we traveled to New York often when I was a kid.  We’d go into the city and when you’re staying
in a hotel, you usually don’t take your leftovers with you since you typically
don’t have a fridge. My family, we always packed up our leftovers no matter
what, something I thought that everybody did when they traveled. [LAUGHS] So we’d
pack up our leftovers and my parents taught us that we leave it by the side of
a trash can or by the side of something where you know it’s a high traffic area
and somebody’s going to see it. I never
thought too much of it.  I just did it because I thought that’s what everyone

I was maybe eight or nine, I remember eating at the Carnegie Deli, which for
most people is guaranteed leftovers. Corned beef hash in particular because
it’s a mountain of stuff in front of you and as much I tried, I could never
finish it.  My dad and I, it was just him
and me at this particular meal, and we took our leftovers and dropped it at the
side of trashcan on Fifth Avenue like usual. 
For whatever reason, I happened to just turn around and I saw somebody
pick it up and start to eat it.  It made
sense in that moment, not to the point where I grew up thinking about food
rescue or wanting to get into hunger relief or anything like that, but it was
just something that made sense to me and I said, “Oh! That’s why we do it  

don’t think I thought about it again until 2010 when Lovin’ Spoonfuls started,
but that was a real visceral memory for me because it was one of those rare
times where one experience helped make sense of so many other moments in my

 Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more that 841,345 pounds of food to date. That’s food that would otherwise have been disposed of, but was instead used to help those in need.

If you’d like to learn more about the organization, or are interested in supporting Lovin’ Spoonfuls by volunteering or donating, visit their website at

What’s in a name: The battle of being a foodie

There is a word that is rarely uttered in the circles of chefs, service staff, and food writers. And, when it is, it typically is laced with sarcasm and used only to express derision. It’s considered profane enough that some food sites won’t allow their writers to include it in their pieces, and the ultimate truth is that most writers don’t want to use it in the first place. The dreaded “F-bomb”. Foodie.

There is a word that is rarely uttered in the circles of chefs, service staff, and food writers. And, when it is, it typically is laced with sarcasm and used only to express derision. It’s considered profane enough that some food sites won’t allow their writers to include it in their pieces, and the ultimate truth is that most writers don’t want to use it in the first place. The dreaded “F-bomb”. 


Foodie is defined, at least as far as the interweb is concerned, as “a person with a particular interest in food.” That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But, for so many, the word foodie is an albatross slung around the neck of the arrogant – know-it-alls and snobs who consider themselves to be better than others because of their appreciation of fine food and dining.

I’m with you on this. These kind of “supreme beings”, in a word, suck. They annoy me just as much as they annoy you. But, why damn the whole bunch due to some bad apples? Every society, every faith, every race, profession, or trade has their share of individuals who act a fool.

Case in point – there were a couple of recent Instagram postings that garnered solid attention (here and here). The photos, screen captures of a couple of emails sent by a cook, were posted by Erik Desjarlais of Weft & Warp Seamster, maker of high quality knife bags, leather totes and aprons. In said emails, the cook expressed a desire for preferential treatment (expedited production of a knife roll and, wouldn’t you know it, a discount) due to the fact that they had worked for a short period in a couple of the world’s best restaurants. After all, he “deserve(d) something for (his) efforts.”

Most would agree that this guy is, quite clearly, a tool. But, by no means does he accurately represent the whole of cooks around the world. I’ve been able to get to know quite a few cooks and chefs, and most of them are pretty rad! I know a few lawyers, and they’re far from the picture painted of ambulance chasers. Some friends of mine are salesman, and excellent at what they do without being of the sleazy sort. I also happen to be acquainted with certain people who claim “foodie”, and I’ll tell you what. They aren’t so bad.

So, what about me, the guy who runs a site called The Foodie Journal? Am I a know-it-all? Not even kind of. In fact, I’m reminded pretty much daily about how little I really know about both food and the culinary world. I’m proud of that fact, and am glad for every opportunity to learn. Am I a snob? I’d like to think that I’m not, and I don’t think anyone that used to make themselves Dorito sandwiches as a kid* is allowed to be a snob.

I’m just a guy who simply has “a particular interest in food.” My name is Reuben, and I… am a foodie. Is that such a bad thing?

*Yes. This is exactly what it sounds like. Two slices of bread, and handful of Doritos. … This is a safe place. No judgement! :)

Architecting the American dining scene as we know it: A conversation with Jeremiah Tower

Jeremiah Tower was supposed to be an architect. A young man at the time, he was on his way to Hawaii to do just that. But, as has happened throughout history to many a young man trying to make their mark, Jeremiah hit a snag. He was down to his last $25, and stuck in San Francisco. So, what’s a man to do?

Why not become one of the individuals credited with completely redefining the American dining scene? Perhaps become the person that many consider to be “the father of California cuisine”?

If you ask him, Jeremiah will be the first to tell you that he never set out to change the culinary world. A lover of food since childhood, working as a chef seemed a natural way to earn some money so that he could continue on to Hawaii as he’d planned. Along the way, however, things changed. Not only did Jeremiah find success in the kitchens of California, he found a way to become one of the main architects of the American dining scene many of us know and love today.

I recently had the honor  to speak with Chef Tower. During our conversation we spoke a bit about where his love for food began, what it’s like to have had such an enormous impact on the culinary world, and what he has on the horizon for the culinary world.

Jeremiah Tower - Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Tower
Jeremiah Tower – Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Tower

Foodie Journal: When was it that you first realized that you had a love for food?
Jeremiah Tower: I fell  in love with food and restaurants when I was five, and we lived in Sydney. There was severe  food rationing at the time, except for in restaurants, so we ate in them a lot and I was allowed to go along.  The most glamorous at that time was Prunier.

FJ: I take it that food continued to play an important role in your life through your teen years, and when you were in college. What were some of the dishes you enjoyed making in those formative years?
JT: Well, my aunt sent me off to college with a hot plate, a Le Creuset frying pan, two bottles of hundred-year-old Madeira, and her recipe for chicken livers, which I cooked in the closet for my roommates. [LAUGHS] But, a favorite of mine, because of my Russian experiences, I loved making coulibiac, though I don’t typically do it with sturgeon. I prefer salmon, or something similar. Do you know what coulibiac is?
FJ: No, that’s new to me. It’s a typical Russian dish?
JT: Yes, so it’s a brioche pastry in to which is stuffed a whole salmon filet with rice, mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs. It’s beautiful in cross-section, and served on a big plate. Then you pour butter and sour cream all over it.
FJ: Wow, that sounds brilliant!
JT: It is! Then you have it with vodka. It’s really unbelievable! Aside from that, I would also make blinis. Obviously without caviar at the time, as it was very expensive.

FJ: So, despite that love for food and cooking, you didn’t originally start down a path that was likely to lead to becoming a chef or a restauranteur. What was it that finally drew you to the kitchen?
JT: Circumstance. I had cooked a lot for friends in college and graduate school, but thought I was going to be an underwater architect. I was on my way to Hawaii to help with a pavilion for a World’s Fair, but I ran out of money in San Francisco. So, a friend suggested I take the job of chef at a café in Berkeley. I was down to my last $25, so I went for an interview.  It was called Chez Panisse.

FJ: Now, from Chez Panisse you moved on to Stars, which was one of the biggest restaurants to open in the United States. Many credit you and what you did there as really changing the landscape of what it means to dine in America. What was it that led you to make Stars in to what it became? Were you interested in “changing the world” so to speak, or did you just want to cook your way?
JT: At the time I was equal partners with Alice Water at Chez Panisse, but I decided to leave after she would not agree to do what is now the café.  I was tired of Berkeley, and wanted to live and work in San Francisco.  I was also in love with the idea of a brasserie,  along the lines of La Coupole or Boeuf Sur le Toit in Paris or the old Delmonico’s in New York, with a huge bar.  But, as a footnote, I really want to say that we had no idea what we were doing in terms of changing things, or creating what became known as California cuisine. I was not aware of the idea that we were changing anything. I was just doing what I wanted to do.  Ultimately, what  I wanted was what Johnny Apple, a writer at the Washington Post, later called “the most democratic restaurant in the USA”.

FJ: You definitely made an impact on the culinary world, and on many chefs with what you did at Stars. I recently had the chance to read your Kindle Single, A Dash of Genius, about Auguste Escoffier, and its obvious that he had a big impact on you as an individual. Can you talk a little about some of the others that impacted who you became as a chef, and what you want to create in the kitchen?
JT: Another mentor was Fernand Point and his book Ma Gastronomie.  I learned to cook from my aunt, her Russian uncle, and also my mother.  Then the two people who influenced me when I was working in restaurants were my great friends Elizabeth David, and Richard Olney.  Another mentor for me, not so much as far as food was concerned but very much for advice in general, was another great friend, James Beard.

Potatoes in paprika - Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Tower
Potatoes in paprika – Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Tower

FJ: So, what do you have in the works now as far as the culinary world is concerned?
JT: Well, 10 minutes ago, I group of people just approached me about opening a dinner club in Merida (Mexico). [LAUGHS] Much to my surprise. But, what’s really going on is the project in New Rochelle, in New York. We’re going to be doing a big urban renewal of some old buildings there, the first of which will be a big food hall. It will involve lots of outreach and educational programs with students and farmers.
FJ: That sounds really exciting! Glad to live not too far from New York so I’ll be able to pay it a visit when it opens.
JT: It will be great for the community. A renewal for the culinary and agriculture in the region. It’s very exciting!

FJ: So on to one of my favorite questions. You’ve had a storied career, and undoubtedly have had countless experiences with food, so I need to ask the impossible question. Is there a particular food memory or experience that stands out in  your mind? Something that really left a mark on you, and solidified what you love about food?
JT: Fried eggs with a blizzard of white truffles in Barcelona last week at Ca l’Isidre. No, just kidding…

I think it was the meals with my aunt, and my Russian space scientist uncle in Washington D.C. when I  was a teenager. My aunt was an extraordinary cook, and my uncle loved to talk about food. It was just amazing to sit around with them, eating and hearing stories told by some of my uncle’s friends, including a man who was a childhood friend of the man who killed Rasputin! These meals would just go on for hours, and I remember that, for me being a teenager, I always saw it as a check of my manhood to start off by trying 5 different types of vodkas, caviars and then make it through dishes like my aunt’s chicken liver with hundred-year-old Madeira. So that was an amazing introduction to how to eat glamorously, because they were glamorous and the conversations were extraordinary.

A Dash of Genius is available as a Kindle Single on You can stay current with what’s going on in the world of Jeremiah Tower by visiting his website at

Foodie-wear: Friends know you’re a foodie, now everyone else can too!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve slowly started to collect what I affectionately refer to as “foodie-wear”. My current prized possessions, which I’m certain my wife is quite tired of seeing, are two shirts I acquired while on a weekend trip to San Francisco a couple of years back. First, and my favorite, my “I ♥ Offal” shirt, which I purchased during a visit to Chris Cosentino’s Incanto. If people don’t know what offal is, I get very confused, sometimes concerned, looks. Those in the know universally respond, “Awesome shirt!” The other is my “Praise the Lard” shirt, which I first spotted at the Prather Ranch Meat Company stall at the San Francisco Ferry Building. I’ll shortly be ordering it in hoodie form to get through the New England winter ahead of me!

“Foodie-wear” is becoming more and more common place, which I really dig. So, I was excited to come across merch from one of my favorite food quickie spots, Chipotle Mexican Grill. They’ve just released some brand new designs through their online web store, which I think are pretty slick.

I have a soon-to-be one year old daughter that this is wicked appropriate for...
I have a soon-to-be one year old daughter that this is wicked appropriate for…

One of the cool aspects of the Chipotle merchandise is that, like their food, they try to be eco-conscious. The merchandise is made in collaboration with Loomstate, using eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, sustainably harvested wood and recycled billboards. Sustainable clothing!

“Foodie-wear” for you (or as a gift for a friend). Helping the environment. What’s not to love?

Check out the Chipotle Mexican Grill web store to see all their latest designs While you’re there, take a look at the mission Chipotle and Loomstate are on to stay environmentally and socially responsible.