The 8 Dishes That Made My Career: Jamie Bissonnette

The force behind Boston's Coppa and Toro charts his path from vegan to nose-to-tail savant.

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Portrait: Hilary O'Rourke

Jamie Bissonnette is well-known today for his knuckle-to-toe tattoos (a ham bone on his hand says eat offal), proficiency around a pig carcass, and the lines out the door of his two perpetually packed Boston restaurants, Coppa and Toro. But before the rave reviews, the James Beard nomination, and the Food & Wine People’s Best New Chef award, Bissonnette was a Connecticut punk-rock kid, straight-edge and vegan.

The siren song of the kitchen called early—Bissonnette conducted Saturday-morning breakfast experiments at home and sliced his way through an after-school job at the local deli as a teen. After an early graduation from culinary school and a stint staging in Paris—where his boss threatened to fire him if he didn’t start eating animals—Bissonnette began working his way up in kitchens in Boston.

Kitchen gigs at Pigalle and Clio led to headlining spots at Eastern Standard and KO Prime, and finally a big break when Boston restaurateur demigod Ken Oringer tapped Bissonnette to man the stoves at Toro. Today, the nose-to-tail aficionado is a co-owner and chef of both Coppa and Toro, the latter of which is scheduled to open an NYC outpost later this year.

Forthright and self-aware in conversation, Bissonnette is a man with a complex food history. When his seven-year run as a vegan came to an end, the influx of different meat flavors came as “an explosion,” he says; and though he’s known for his carnivorous, offal-infused dishes in his restaurants, Bissonnette says he cooks mainly vegetables at home.

Here, Bissonnette shares the dishes that brought him to where is today, from mom’s toaster-oven chicken wings to classic steak tartare in Paris.

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