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!

Advertisements

The Coppa “Yes, Chef” dinner with Marcus Samuelsson

“Swedeiopian”. Obviously a fusion of two words, two nationalities, Swedish and Ethiopian. It’s a word I had never heard before, but it perfectly described the evening I had at Coppa in Boston’s South End last Monday. The “Yes, Chef” dinner with Chef Marcus Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, was an event that highlighted just how good combining things can be! A little Ethiopian. Some Swedish. And, why not toss in some Italian as well!

That’s exactly what Coppa’s Chef Jamie Bissonnette did for this event. It was an interpretation of Ethiopian and Swedish dishes and flavors, with an occasional flash of Italian (Ethiopian & Swedish Pizza, anyone?). Addressing the assembled guests, Coppa co-owner and Chef Ken Oringer pointed out the fact that Jamie and his team had put considerable time in to planning the menu for the event. Apparently the first time Jamie even had the opportunity to experience traditional Ethiopian fare was the day prior, at Addis Red Sea on Tremont Street! (On a side note, I had the pleasure of sitting at a communal table with one of the chefs from Red Sea. If you haven’t, I highly recommend checking them out.)

Chefs Jamie Bissonnette, Ken Oringer, and Marcus Samuelsson

The food

The menu for the event was most definitely unusual, but was also quite brilliant. It was an eclectic mix of flavors and ingredients that I personally had never experienced, and doubt many in attendance had either. Of all things on the menu, I was excited to try the berbere roasted rabbit. I first learned of berbere while reading Chef Samuelsson’s memoir “Yes, Chef”. Berbere is a mix of spices: chilies, paprika, ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon. I’m not certain of the exact quantities Jamie used for his berbere, but I was impressed that it didn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the rabbit (Which for the record… tastes like rabbit. Not chicken.).

There were plenty of other highlights on the menu. My wife was just short of chasing down hors d’ouevres trays carrying chicken fried zucchini flowers with a Buna coffe aioli, the aioli in particular adding a nice kick to the zucchini flower. A not so typical smörgåsbord was also off-the-wall great. I made multiple visits to the pickled vegetables, in particular the carrots, as well as the sweet & savory candied peanuts.

An amazing end to the night came in the form of a blåbärssoppa. A blueberry “soup” panna cotta. It was extremely light, with a perfect texture, which has to be expect of an Italian enoteca, regardless of what the inspiration for the overall meal was! It was a great finish to a great meal.

At the end of this article you’ll find a full transcription of the entire menu from the evening. It’s drool-worthy… and I didn’t even include the wines!

Man of the hour (or four)

Chef Marcus Samuelsson

While the Ethiopian and Swedish cultures are inspirational all their own, this event was ultimately inspired by an individual who embodies both: Chef Marcus Samuelsson. From the moment we walked in to Coppa, Chef Samuelsson was making the rounds. He spoke with everyone. He shook hands. He even served the berbere roasted rabbit to the Red Sea chef sitting at our table (she’d never tried rabbit before and was unsure that she wanted to). Chef Marcus made it happen.

That’s the charm of Chef Marcus. He has a quality that is very disarming. An easy, genuine smile that is contagious. An event of this kind obviously requires that attention be paid to those in attendance, but at not point did it feel like Chef Marcus was “on the clock”. He enjoyed wine and food with the rest of us, answered some questions, cracked a bunch of jokes. And of course chalked us up as one of the better book dinners thus far (“Nobody rocks like … Boston!” [“He said Boston!!!”]).

Prior to the dinner, I had already managed to read about half of “Yes, Chef” on my Nook. Now, with a freshly signed hard copy, I look forward to finishing off the fascinating memoir of this amazing individual.

In the end…

The entire experience from start to finish was, in a word, inspiring. Amazing food. A boat load of culinary firepower. The opportunity to be around that much food knowledge is downright humbling for a foodie, and it is most definitely a night I won’t soon forget. I look forward to a “family reunion” with our table-mates one day at Red Rooster. To the entire team at Coppa, a heartfelt well done. To Chef Marcus Samuelsson, thank you  for sharing your story and your passion. And, do I look forward to crossing paths again?

Yes, Chef.


Hors D’ouevres

Kitfo – Ethiopian beef tartare on injera
Raggmunk – Swedish potato pancake with crab and corn
Chicken fried zucchini flowers – Buna coffee aioli
Inlagd Oysters – Pickled oysters with korarima and coconut

Smörgåsbord

Shiro – Yellow eye pea puree with baharat
Inlagd Anjovis – White anchovies with lovage & black olive
Inlagd Grönsaker – Pickled vegetables
Swede Rotmos – Green rutabaga and carrot salad
Sweet & Savory Candied Peanuts

Ethiopian & Swedish Pizza

Gomen Wot – Braised greens with favas and tomatoes
Falukorv – Smoked pork offal and beef sausage with ricotta

Sunday Supper

Berbere Roasted Rabbit
Mac n’ Greens – House made cavatelli with Swiss chard & cloth bound cheddar
Kolo and Kale Salad – Puffed barley and kale salad

Dessert

Blåbärssoppa – Blueberry “soup” panna cotta

Blueberry “soup” panna cotta

Jamie Bissonnette: From straight-edge vegan to nose-to-tail cook

I dig Chef Jamie Bissonnette.

The guy amazes me. For no reason I can think of, he has been unbelievably accommodating in the past couple of months. The only conclusion I can come to is that he’s just a good guy.

Jamie is also a brilliant chef. One of Boston’s best! But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Jamie won Food and Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef Award for 2011. He’s chef/co-owner of two of the best restaurants in Boston, Coppa Enoteca and Toro. He competed (and won) on Food Network’s Chopped. He was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Northeast. Need I say more?

Having had the chance to interview Jamie regarding his James Beard Award nom back in May, it dawned on me that I didn’t get to know much about him. He graciously hooked me up with a follow-up interview. Here’s what went down!

Jamie Bissonette - Photo by Heath Robbins
Jamie Bissonette – Photo by Heath Robbins

Foodie Journalist: When did you first realize that you liked to cook and wanted to do it for a living?
Jamie Bissonnette: I think the first time I was aware of cooking I was 10 or 11 and made scrambled eggs with cheese on toast.  It was runny and I used salt and a pepper grinder like the chefs I saw on Great Chefs on the Discovery Channel.  The kids painting the house asked if I could make it for them, pretty sure just to bust my balls.  So I did, and they were wicked suprised, and raved about it.  I didn’t say “[SALT] it, I’m gonna be a chef”, but looking back now, I did know something good was happening.

FJ: I recall having heard or read somewhere that you were actually a vegan at one point. How does someone go from vegan to nose-to-tail cuisine?
JB: I was straight edge hardcore punk rock. I was totally into all of it. I’m not straight edge any more, but I still love the scene and music. So, I started eating vegetarian, and would bounce back and forth from vegetarian to vegan for years. But when I was in culinary school, I stopped being a vegan and started eating meat during one of my first long term stages. A chef told me I could never master a flavor I never tasted.  I started eating steak tartare two days later.

Having not been a meat eater for so long and as a cook and new omnivore, I was getting pissed at the waste I saw in kitchens. It evolved from butchering pork tenderloins and being curious about how it was harvested from the whole pig to asking if we could buy a whole animal to cut up.  Some waste, and a lot of mis-cuts later, I was in love with the processes.

FJ: It seems like there is more interest in nose-to-tail. More restaurants are doing it. It’s getting more play on TV, like on Iron Chef or on Chopped. Do you see it really being embraced by diners? Is it something that people are really excited for and enjoying?
JB: I think it’s more understood in the restauratn and food community, but I’d say that 40 percent of my diners at Coppa are still scared shitless.  The other 60 percent are STOKED for it.

FJ: So, I’ve asked this of a couple of people now and I’d like your take.There is so much information available these days about food, so it would seem that diners are a lot more savvy about food than they used to be. They know better what good food is and what to expect at a good restaurant. Does that impact chefs? Do you have to change anything on your end to compensate?
JB: Kind of.  They may read more about food and see [SALT] on TV, but at the end of the day they haven’t tasted it for themselves. It can be kind of hard to deal with. Even when they go out to restaurants, they can sometimes think “Well, I know what this is supposed to be. I saw Bourdain eat it, and it didn’t look like this.” But, who’s to say that the two places he went to are the only ones that make a particular dish? Or, that they make it the right way.  Who knows if they were even good?  Some chef may have been living in Thailand for years, seen some rad old recipe from an old chef there for a soup and tried to make it that way. Just because a blog, cookbook, or someone on TV has a different version, does that make the one you’re trying wrong?  That’s an issue I see.

Conversely, now we have more educated patrons who are excited that we have elvers or kokotxas because they saw them on TV.  So, it takes balance.  I think that if we start rethinking our craft too much and change for the winds, it’s gonna bite us all in the ass.  It the end, good is subjective.  I like good food. Love it. And I know what’s good to me because of what I’ve learned from my experiences, and not just information that I received from someone else.

FB: In the experience category, then, is there an experience or a food related memory that you think back on? Like, maybe a moment when you realized that food wasn’t “just food”?
JB: My dad says he knew I’d probably end up as a cook. Back in the earl 80’s most people around Hartford, CT didn’t think of chefs in the same way one does now. When I was 2 or 3 years old, I taught myself how to pull the drawers out and climb up to the counter.  I would sit and use my fingers to eat the soft butter that was sitting out.  After the first time I had a pickle I wanted one everyday.  Then I was addicted to liverwurst.  Soon after that I always wanted grilled meat.  I was watching and asking questions.  It’s too bad that NO ONE could cook anything in my house.  I grew up loving [SALTY] food.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my “Learning about the industry” series, covering the service and front-of-house staff of Toro Restaurant.

An interview with 2012 James Beard Foundation Award nominee Jaime Bissonnette

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.

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.