After winning over Bostonians at Toro and Coppa, chef Jamie Bissonnette took his talents to New York, and opened Toro NYC. Despite this full schedule, he's also taken the time recently to publish "The New Charcuterie Cookbook." The book aims to show people how to make cured meats at home. We talked to him about how to ease your way into eating the slightly more unfamiliar parts of the animal.
What made you decide to go for it and write a cookbook about an unusual topic like this?
My dad just started cooking like the last ten years and I give him recipes based off of stuff that we do at the restaurant so it was like, oh, this might be kind of fun. So I looked at it as a challenge. I’m also the kind of person where if someone’s like, "Hey do you want to do this?" And if I’ve never done it before, chances are, unless it’s like skydiving or something with heights, which I’m terrified of, the answer’s yes. I’m like yeah, sure, I want to be able to say that I tried. Even if I fail – every time you don’t try, you always fail, right?
How do you talk people into trying new kinds of meat?
Eye contact and a smile? It’s kind of true, though. If you build trust with people, they’ll be into it. You give them delicious food and you cook it properly, and they can trust you that you’re going to make them a good meatball, that you’re going to make them a perfect paella, and you build their trust with the simple foods. Then you say hey, I’m going to give you something that you’re used to. I’ve made you a really awesome roast beef, well, I’m going to give you another roast beef, but this time it’s beef heart. And just be positive and smile.
What’s the best intro to trying offal?
A properly cooked tongue, a properly cooked heart. The hardest part of cooking some of the offal like that is the texture. If you can get through that, it’s pretty awesome. Crispy sweet breads are a pretty good introduction. I always tell people, perfectly cooked and fried sweet breads have the same texture that chicken McNuggets did when you were a kid.
Why are they called sweet breads?
I have no idea.
It’s very misleading.
I always have to put on the menu, “veal sweetbread,” and I would still say, one time out of ten, somebody gets them and says “I’m a vegetarian.”
Do you have a preferred knife brand?
I am very faithful to MKS knives. That’s Adam Simha, he makes knives out of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Is the one that you’re pictured with in the book one of his?
Does it not look like a knife and look a little bit more like a saw?
Yeah, that’s our human bone saw that we bought off of an autopsy website.
Do you actually use that knife, or was that just for the picture?
No no, that’s my saw!
Is an autopsy website the best place to get that kind of utensil?
Yeah, but it’s really hard because a lot of them you have to have a medical license or a certain ID to get it, but there’s a couple in Germany that you can get them off of. It’s gotta be some like, weird, sketchy…I’ve gotta be on a watchlist for doing it somewhere. It’s totally a “Hostel” kind of thing.