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.

Jamie Bissonnette, chef and owner of the renowned South End eateries Coppa and Toro (a restaurant that has been around since 2005—yet 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 Veginitywhich 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?