6/14/2013 04:42:00 PM

Aspen 2013: Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer on Trends, NYC Expansion and More

Bissonnette and Oringer with chef Jay Hajj (center)
Culinary rockstar duo Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette run some of Boston's most buzzworthy restaurants including the Italian-slanted Coppa and small plates-laden Toro. The two toques now have their sights set on NYC, planning to open an outpost of Toro in downtown Manhattan in early fall. We caught up with the busy chefs at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen this morning to talk about the expansion, Boston food trends and more.

Zagat: I know you guys did some fundraising for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. What was it like being in Boston that day?
Ken and Jamie: Scary.

Jamie: That whole week was surreal. It was like being on a really horrible movie set or a bad dream you just couldn't wake up from.

Zagat: In the week that followed, what was the energy like in your restaurants?
Ken: I mean the great thing about it was the resiliency of the city and people just came out in the neighborhood supporting Toro and Coppa and even Clio. All the streets were closed off by there. The weather was really nice for a few weeks after the bombing and I think people wanted to be out amongst each other.

Jamie: All the neighborhood people came out, there weren't as many tourists, bridge-and-tunnel crowd, etc. All the people that live in Boston proper came out in droves. We saw people buying each other drinks and sitting at communal tables and making new friends. It was a really interesting energy; brought a lot of people together.

Zagat: Any further expansion plans? The NYC Toro is coming up, I know. Exciting stuff.
Ken: New York is our priority right now. We'll go one step at a time. 

Zagat: Any updates there? It was supposed to open this spring...
Ken: Opening early fall. (Smiles.) 

Zagat: The food scene in Boston has grown a lot in the last five years, what's still missing cuisine or trend wise?
Jamie: I think Korean restaurants. I love Korean fired chicken, all Korean food. Boston really doesn't have that. There's a few places that do mediocre fried chicken, but there's no good Korean BBQ joints that you'd get in NYC in Koreatown.

Ken: Something like The John Dory [April Bloomfield's NY seafood joint.] There's so such amazing seafood in Boston but all the seafood restaurants are these big fancy restaurants and it'd be nice to have something smaller with great cocktails.

Zagat: How do you think the dining scene has evolved in Boston in the last few years?
Jamie: I think the white tablecloths are getting stripped off the tables. And I feel that a lot of the newer restaurants opening up are taking themselves more seriously in their styles of food and their flavors, but less in having those esoteric garnishes for example. Restaurants with huge appetizer sections and huge mid-size entrees and smaller large entrees. More of the small plates trend, which I love. 

Ken: More people are taking the plunge to open up small neighborhood restaurants. Rents are not cheap in Boston but people are really putting their foot forward and opening these little funky restaurants in esoteric areas. 

Zagat: If you guys were to do a totally new restaurant concept, what would be next? 
Ken: We've talked about a lot of different things. Something always draws us to Asian street food, it's our weakness. Maybe a dive bar-type thing, too.

Jamie: I don't know if we'd do another restaurant that had a specific cuisine but maybe something more fun and eclectic. We want to open up restaurants where line cooks can afford to go on a regular basis. It'd be great to have a restaurant where we can do an izakaya menu with some Mexican stuff with whatever else and have it all seamlessly work together with a really great jukebox and...

Ken: Cheap drinks.

Zagat: Amen.

Watch for all weekend for our coverage of the Aspen Food and Wine Festival which runs June 14-16.


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