Would you ever guess that Jamie Bissonnette, the curator of the Spain Box and charcuterie expert, used to be a vegan? Or that he was first obsessed with French cuisine? Here, we get the inside scoop about this chef’s personal story and how he transitioned from punk rocker to kitchen professional. Check out our exclusive video interview with Jamie here!
We heard you used to be vegan, how did you get into this lifestyle?
As a kid, I was really drawn to music. I found punk rock and then a sub cult of punk rock called hard core and straight edge. Being straight edge, I lived really clean: we didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do any drugs, and a lot of people started becoming vegetarian and vegan. As we traveled in bands, we found it increasingly difficult to find vegan food, so that’s what got me into cooking. I was definitely a different kind of kid, and my parents were kind of supportive. But my mother was super adversarial about my diet. To be honest, she was a pretty horrible cook.
So how did you make the transition into eating meat?
After a few years, I sort of went back and fourth, flopping between veganism and vegetarianism, until I was on a couple stages [apprenticeships] for culinary school. That’s when everything changed. I was learning everything, and I didn’t discriminate, so I tasted everything and spit out the things I wouldn’t personally consume.
Throughout culinary school, I became fascinated by the class that was teaching us about traditional charcuterie from Spain and France. But after I graduated culinary school and traveled to work at restaurants, I saw that there were not a lot of those things around. I just started buying books and became an omnivore and eating everything again. I was fascinated by it and I wanted to make it. That was it! So it started off as a little bit of an itch that I had to scratch, and then that itch became a full body rash.
What is it about charcuterie that you love so much?
I love that you can take something that does not inherently look, smell, or taste good and make it delicious. Not that cooking is easy, but its hard to take a kidney, or a head, or an ear, or a tail that people are already kind of smirking that they don’t like and transforming that into something that’s delicious. When I started, I figured out that you can’t make a beautiful tomato salad with a crummy tomato. And no matter what you do, you can’t make great ham or great sausage with inferior pork.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I get asked a lot what sets my food apart from others or what my style is, and I have a hard time answering that because I feel like my style changes so much. I guess my style is I love to be influenced by the foods around me.
I’m not cooking from anywhere specific. I’m just cooking. I feel that when you learn to cook–learning to cook French, Spanish, Indian, Italian, doesn’t matter.
The most important thing is to learn good habits and to learn discipline in the kitchen.
What would you say attracts you to Spanish food?
I think the food in Spain is so special because of the care and the love that goes into it. Food is not consumed just for substance. Food is life. There’s a saying in the Bask country: “Eat a little bit, often.” Rather than sitting and having meals and eating all day long… it’s the ingredients that are so important.