Toro’s Chef was Once a Vegetarian

Jamie Bissonnette went back to eating meat because he wanted to be a great chef. We're glad he did.

By | Hub Health |

Jamie Bissonnette, chef and owner of the renowned South End eateries Coppa and Toro (a restaurant that has been around since 2005‚ÄĒyet it’s still impossible to get a table on a weekend), who also recently opened a Toro outpost in NYC, tells New York magazine’s Grub Street that he was once a vegetarian. In culinary school, he tried his dishes by chewing the food and then spitting it out. He says he was a¬†straight-edge, punk-rock kid and he had a lot of vegetarian friends. In the early nineties, being a vegetarian was “pretty dramatic,” he says, and he did it because he “wanted to belong to something.”

Bissionnette goes into detail in Grub Street’s article, Losing Your Veginity,¬†which chronicles the former vegetarian’s dive back into the meat eating pool:

I decided to become a chef kind of because I was a vegetarian. My mom said if I wouldn’t eat what she cooked, I had to cook for myself. But I started missing practices and cooking more and more. The guys said my priorities were pretty fucked up and that I should quit the band. When I went to culinary school and started cooking professionally, I’d try everything and spit it out. I wasn’t swallowing meat, but I had so much butter in my mouth.

The meat moment:¬†I was working in a restaurant in France and the chef said that I was a good cook, but I’d never be a great cook unless I started eating the food that I was a cooking. He said, “Do you want to be a vegetarian chef?” I said, “No I want to be a chef.” I took that to heart and started playing around with eating meat. By the end of the week, I was eating foie gras and mussels. I never looked back.

We’re glad he did. (And if you’ve ever eaten at Toro or Coppa, you know why.) Say what you want about eating meat (full disclosure: the first time I ever tried a bone marrow dish was at Toro in 2005, but I will earn my two year vegetarian coin in March), but I find it hard to believe that a chef who cooks with meat will be any good if he/she doesn’t try it first. If you aren’t going to try it, why should we?

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