In addition to writing a cookbook, Bissonnette has been keeping busy with Coppa and Toro here in Boston as well as the almost-year-old Toro in New York. He chatted with Eater about writing the book and revealed some of his favorite meaty spots around town.
How does it feel to release your first cookbook?
I did a dinner last week where it was the first time I'd seen more than one of the books at once, and I was kind of emotional, like, Wow, that doesn't seem real.
How long has the process taken?
I mean, from when I said I would start writing it to when it was finished was a little bit different than when I actually started getting around to writing it — but we did it over the course of about a year.
I didn't wake up that morning thinking,"I'm going to write a cookbook."
Where did the idea come from in the first place?
William, the publisher of the book at Page Street Publishing, was speaking with Ken Goodman, the photographer who did the book. He's also an old chef and a very good friend of mine. And they were talking about a book that William wanted to have somebody write — a charcuterie book that was more modern, not just traditional European recipes but a little bit more inspired by travel, a little bit different than what he saw out there. Not just French and Portuguese and Spanish and Italian.
He wanted it to be geared towards home cooks, and Ken said, I know a guy who could probably write this; this is right up his wheelhouse. We set up a telephone call, but I didn't wake up that morning thinking, I'm going to write a cookbook. But I'm also the kind of person who, if someone's like, Hey, do you want to go do X?, I always say yes, unless it has something to do with heights or roller coasters. Yeah, I'll talk to somebody about a book.
We started talking, and it sounded like it could be pretty fun, like the book that he wanted written was the book that I wanted to write. I mean, I never woke up and said, I want to write a charcuterie book with Vietnamese sausages and Thai sausages and German sausages for a home cook, but that's what I like writing. I like writing recipes that my dad could follow; my dad's not a cook. So we talked and I wrote a recipe and sent it to them, and he's like, Yeah, this is it. We want you to do it. The next year and a half, we argued over when I was going to write it. [Laughs.]
Are all of the recipes brand new, or are some of them based off of dishes you've made in your restaurants?
Some of them are things that I've been working on for years. There are a couple recipes that are versions of things that I learned when I was just out of culinary school, and some of the things I was writing right around when the book came about, but none of them were written intentionally just for the book; they're all recipes that I've used.
I think that if I ever wrote a book again, I would definitely want to not do it while I'm opening up a restaurant in Manhattan.
At this point in the process, can you definitively say whether you'd want to write another cookbook in the future?
Ask me that in a year. [Laughs.] I had fun doing it. I really, really had a lot of fun working with Barbara, who helped me with the actual writing part of it. We did a lot of talking on the phone. I'm dyslexic, and I'm really bad at computer work, terrible at email, so working with her, I was able to dictate a lot of recipes. She would jot them down, write out the stories, and send them to me, and I could say, Ok, this is what I meant by that, and this is the actual measurement. It was a really, really fun process to do. I think that if I ever wrote a book again, I would definitely want to not do it while I'm opening up a restaurant in Manhattan.
How is that going?
Good! We're a year old next week.
How does the clientele there compare to the Boston clientele?
It's a lot of the same people — tourists and people who are into food and other restaurant people. I think the only major difference here [in New York] is that a lot of the diners we're seeing in New York are ordering more food and eating less. In Boston, people order food, and they polish every plate off; they order an average of three to five things per person. In New York, we're seeing people ordering five to six things per person and maybe not finishing everything, which is cool — people are trying more, tasting things.
When you're back in Boston, where are your favorite places to eat charcuterie?
I love going to The Butcher Shop. I love going to Tavern Road. I love the seafood charcuterie that Will [Gilson] does at Puritan & Co. Tony Maws — when there's a pate at one of Tony's restaurants, chances are it's the grand slam home run of pate. He does wonders with head cheese, and I've always loved his charcuterie.
What are some of your favorite Boston meat spots in general?
In the North End, I love going to Monica's Salumeria, and I miss Sage. Sage had great stuff. In Chinatown, I love going to Gourmet Dumpling House. Their Szechuan chili tripe, that cold tripe salad, is unbelievably craveable. And the pork and leek dumplings there are really great. As far as just steak, Grill 23 has a great steak. Bogie's Place, the steakhouse in jm Curley, is a sleeper. I think it's the best-kept secret in Boston. It's so good. I'm surprised we don't hear it being spoken of more.
For someone making his or her first visit to Boston, what would you suggest as an itinerary for a meat-filled adventure?
I would probably take them to my restaurant first, because I'm really proud of what we've done with Coppa. Have some salumi, some meat-centric pastas. Maybe if we're not too full, we could walk over to The Butcher Shop and do another round of the same. From there, I would probably go to an early dinner at Tavern Road, and maybe from there, Myers + Chang, then probably No. 9 Park.
That would be a good day.
I'm not done! There's more. I would probably go to Eastern Standard for steak tartare, maybe some pate, and then go for some of the late-night porky ramen and tacos at Uni. Then I would wake up, and I would go to the doctor, and I would have them give me a really, really big prescription for Lipitor.
What's your earliest memory of meat?
One, I remember going to the grocery store with my legs hanging in the front of the cart, facing my mom as she pushed it, and getting a pickle out of the barrel — I think those are illegal now; they have the barrels, but all the pickles are individually wrapped. They were cesspools of bacteria. I remember getting one of those pickles wrapped in deli paper, and I would eat it like a banana as we were going around, dipping it in liverwurst.
And my second memory would be not having steak with dinner — having roasted chicken or chicken breast or whatever — and seeing my parents eat steak. Then, the next day, my mom would make steak and eggs with the leftover steak. I just remember having her slice the steak and cooking it like it was bacon in the pan, getting it crispy in a cast iron pan. I still love that.
Some people write cookbooks that need to be taken like an Encyclopedia Britannica. Mine's more like a Judy Blume story.
What would you like people to take from the cookbook?
It's not meant to be taken seriously. It's not a bible. Some people write cookbooks that need to be taken like an Encyclopedia Britannica. Mine's more like a Judy Blume story. It's for fun — a little bit of an education. Have fun with it. It's intentionally a soft-cover book with a glossy cover with a binding that helps the pages stay open easily. It's the kind of book that I hope one day to go visit a friend's restaurant and see it in the kitchen and have them need a new copy. I hope it gets used so much that it's dog-eared and torn and burnt.
I want someone to tell me that a recipe was better when they changed something on it. I want people to tell me how they improved on it, because that just shows me that someone was paying attention to what I wrote. Just reading one thing out of the book and trying to cook out of it is the biggest compliment that I could get. I want people to have fun. I hope they take it just seriously enough that they know that I did it on purpose but not too seriously that they think that I'm trying to reinvent anything.