6 Questions with Jamie Bissonnette

How has travel influenced you professionally?

The restaurant that I’m sitting at right now, Little Donkey, is my business partner and I’s restaurant that we opened up based on our travels. This restaurant has food from everywhere. We do Vietnamese food, we do Korean food, we do Middle Eastern food, we do American, Spanish, Japanese. It’s all based on things that inspired us in our travels. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel as a young chef, I would probably still be cooking the same rural-Connecticut-Italian food that I grew up learning how to cook. The more I travel, the more I want to use different ingredients and different ways.

What inspires you to create? 

One of the biggest inspirations for me is exposure to new things. When I was a young cook, we didn’t have Facebook or anything like that, didn’t even have the internet. If you wanted to see something, you had to travel. If I wanted to know what was going on somewhere, I would get on a bus, go to the restaurant, and steal a menu or whatnot. As I got older, I could afford to buy a train ticket or a plane ticket and I would travel more and more. Everything went from there – I got to see more of the world, got more exposure, and became more open-minded. So, Yeah. Travel and the hope of travel are what influence me the most.

Tell us more about the hope of travel?

When I’m not traveling and I’m at work,I’m longing for a new experience. My wife and I are chronically planning our next trip. We actually just finished planning and we’re heading to Korea and Japan for about a month. We finished planning that on Sunday. On Monday night, we were having dinner and she was like, ok, well, let’s start planning what we could do if we get to go to Vietnam. We work so that we can travel, so we can be more creative at work, so we can travel. It’s like a pretty cool cycle.

When did you first visit Vietnam?

It was an interesting time in my life. I was doing demos on a cruise ship. I had one long day off and told them that I would meet them in two days in Hanoi and I made my way there on my own. Super fun. Kind of terrifying – they wouldn’t let me take my passport off the cruise ship because I was working. I wouldn’t do that again. Some of the best times I had were just walking down alleys and introducing myself to people who were serving food. Just trying to break down the language barrier and using empathy to convince people to give me food. I would do that again.

Are there any flavors or dishes that you are particularly excited about?

I could eat durian and sticky rice for the rest of my life. There’s also this little betel leaf-wrapped sweet lemongrass beef. I saw people grilling them over buckets of charcoal on wire racks, and the first time I had one it felt so good. Every time I walked by a vendor, I had to have another one, and another one, and it was just, it was wonderful. Sometimes they put them on bread, sometimes we had them on skewers. I also fell in love with Vietnamese chewy tapioca and potato starch noodles. I could go on and on about Vietnamese food.

How do you find such good street food when you travel? 

I find myself being drawn to wet markets and food markets. I also find a lot of joy in going to textile markets. If it looks like it’s all textiles and there are not a lot of tourists going there… Generally, somewhere around there is gonna be some really f*cking good food. And it’s food that I wouldn’t have been exposed to as just a normal traveler. I seek out those kinds of spaces.