The Kitchen Spy: A Look Inside Jamie Bissonnette's South End Pad

Welcome to The Kitchen Spy, where we visit local chefs’ home kitchens, and force them to open up their fridge, drawers, and cabinets.

Bissonnette works a Berkel slicer, a gift from two of his regulars, in his South End apartment. All photos by Charlotte Wilder for Boston magazine

For our first installment of The Kitchen Spy, I headed over to the South End to check out Toro and Coppa chef/co-owner Jamie Bissonnette’s two-floor pad. “I’ve lived in a lot of tiny apartments with shitty kitchens,” Bissonnette says. Now that he’s in nicer digs, he wanted to create a space that’s meant for socializing and hanging out. “It’s got high ceilings, I can decorate it with cool stuff, and it has a lot of space. If I want to make pasta or say, ‘Hey I want to have friends over and do a cooking class,’ or entertain and cook with other guys, we have plenty of space to set up and do productions,” he says. Ahead, get a peek at the chef’s home bar, Fernet obsession, cookbook collection and more.

Bissonnette has been jotting down recipe ideas in shorthand since he was in culinary school in 1994, and since then has amassed hundreds and hundreds of notebooks. “Some restaurants I staged in [abroad], that was back in the day when there were no cell phones, no cameras, and you weren’t allowed to write notes or take recipes down. So I would bring pieces of paper in and put them in my clogs, and I would go to the bathroom every couple hours to write out what I could remember,” he says.

The requisite refrigerator breakdown of essentials: 1. Pickled dilly beans from his chef pal Will Gilson, whose family runs the Herb Lyceum in Groton. 2. Tahini. 3. Lime pickle, a traditional Indian condiment of limes and spices. 4. More pickles, of course. “We have a community garden plot so we always make our own pickles and have them through the winter,” Bissonnette says. 5. Red miso. 6. A country ham from North Carolina, a gift from his sister-in-law. 7. Fish sauce from Red Boat, which Bissonnette says is the “best in fish sauce the world.” 8. Mazi-brand piri-piri sauce, a spicy Portuguese condiment. 9. Kewpie mayo, a Japanese brand of mayo.

Top: Bissonnette’s spice cabinet, an East-meets-West mix of ingredients like togarashi (a Japanese pepper/spice blend), sesame oil, Chinese black vinegar, calcium carbonate for homemade noodles, turmeric for rice, mustard seeds for curries and pickling, cayenne for spice, and an array of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Bissonnette also makes his own vinegars from scratch, using a mother starter that he’s has for six years.

Bottom Right: On the left is a antique charcuterie pick, which Bissonnette uses when serving homemade pates. The Coca-Cola mini-motorcycle was a gift. “One of my cooks went to Thailand for a while, and since he knows that I love my scooter he got me this,” Bissonnette says.

Bottom Center: In a drawer of assorted knick knacks, there’s items like a mandoline for slicing (light blue), as well as an old-school ice cream scoop that’s marked with a “31,” the number of scoops it can get from a gallon of ice cream.

Bottom Left: A vintage ice scraper, used to get ice chips from giant blocks.

As many chefs do, Bissonnette has a bit of an obsession with Fernet Branca, which extends to collectibles showcasing the digestif’s logo. Clockwise from top left: Miniature shot glasses scored on eBay (he has a Fernet-specific alert set up), a vintage Fernet poster, special glasses that Bissonnette ordered for Coppa from eBay, and, lastly, a Fernet bicycle. The larger glasses are back in Bissonnette’s kitchen, since 54 of the 60 he originally ordered (at $10-$25 per glass, mind you) were stolen from Coppa.

A hardcore music buff, Bissonnette has an extensive alphabetized vinyl collection (the shelves on the left contain only a fraction of his records). “I wanted to make sure that I had music in the kitchen,” he says. “Up here are the records that I listen to and my more expensive records. The crap jazz stays down there [in storage] and the good jazz and good punk stays up here.”

When he’s off the clock, Bissonnette’s go-to snack is gussied-up packaged ramen. He uses togarashi and spicy sesame oil to perk up the broth, and here finished his with pickled dilly beans, homemade sambal, arugula, and dried shrimp, which he stores in the freezer.

In the upstairs level of the apartment, Bissonnette has a sectioned-off cookbook reading area, stocked with 50s-era retro cookbooks as well as classics from the likes of Jacques Pepin and Michel Guérard. As for the mini bookcase on top of the big one? It’s hollow on the inside, and usually contains a bottle of Fernet.

Bissonnette also stocks a small bar upstairs. He says that he favors booze like Punt e Mes, Campari, and Chartreuse. The mermaid bottle opener was a gift from Bissonnette to his wife, Courtney, who loves mermaids.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Kitchen Spy, featuring Craigie on Main toque Tony Maws.

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