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Peek in the Kitchen Q+A: Toro/Little Donkey


Peek in the Kitchen Q+A: Toro/Little Donkey

Fred Chang

Words by TasteBUds Editing Team

The dynamic duo - Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette - gave TasteBUds a peek into their two restaurants Toro and Little Donkey: 

A peek into Toro: 

TasteBUds: What about Spanish cuisine inspired you both to create the concept of Toro? Was it a specific ingredient, dish, Spanish chef, etc.?                                                                                                                      Jamie: Spanish food is all about ingredients, energy and passion. KO was influenced by cooking and traveling in Spain, and I fell in love with the style of eating.

What were your backgrounds before you opened Toro? 
Ken: I started my career under chef David Burke at River Café in NYC, before moving to New England to work as the Pastry Chef at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island and Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Le Marquis de Lafayette in Boston. After some time cooking in San Francisco, I returned to Boston and opened Clio, followed by Uni. From there, Jamie and I teamed up to open Toro followed by Coppa. Most recently we've opened Toro in NYC and Bangkok, and expanded Uni to takeover the Clio space. That said, Little Donkey is our first Boston-area project in over six years. 
Jamie: I earned my Culinary Arts degree from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and spent my early years cooking in Paris, San Francisco, NYC and Phoenix. I was the opening executive chef at Eastern Standard where I cooked for two years before Ken tapped me for his steakhouse KO Prime. From there it was Toro, and before we knew it Coppa. Pretty psyched to be working with Ken after all these years and the two of us are thrilled to be opening our first Boston-area restaurant in over six years. 

What are your favorite items on the menu to cook and eat?  
Jamie: I'll never grow old of eating the paella and the pan con tomate. I love cooking paella and fideos and grilling corn.
Ken: I'm a big fan of our Manti, which is an Istanbul Meat Ravioli that a lot of people have never tried. We make it with garlic sour cream and red pepper butter, it's pretty killer!

A peek into Little Donkey:

TasteBUds: What inspired the decision to open up this second restaurant? 
Jamie: After Coppa, and then Toro NYC and Toro Bangkok, KO and I wanted to concentrate on Boston. We love Cambridge, and all of the different cultures in Central Square. It's a melting pot. The perfect place to have a restaurant like LD.

TasteBUds: What are some of the main cuisines that the menu represents? 
Jamie: We wanted LD to be a restaurant that could break the rules and cook what ever we want.  We aren't held to any one cuisine.
Ken: Because the restaurant is inspired by our world travels, you'll notice everything from Japanese-inspired ramen and Mexican breakfast chilaquiles to Monkfish Biryani with basmati rice, saffron, cashews and cardamom.

TasteBUds: What inspired you to have such a diverse menu, showcasing a variety of different cuisines?
Jamie: TRAVEL and the neighborhood. Seeing all the different walks of life walking around the neighborhood.
Ken: Definitely our world travels and also that we've limited ourselves to certain cuisines at our other restaurants, we wanted to break the rules a bit.

TasteBUds: How has the reception been to this new place so far? 
Jamie: Pretty good. We love seeing some of our regulars from the other restaurants give Little Donkey a try!
Ken: We've been lucky to receive a warm welcome in the neighborhood. Plus there's no reason to wait until happy hour to visit us, we're serving an awesome breakfast starting at 8:00am!

TasteBUds: What inspired the name "Little Donkey"?                       Donkeys are found in every culture. They are hard working animals, companion animals, and comfort animals in many cultures. We wanted a restaurant that was like that. Bound to no culture, fun, hard working, and comforting.

TasteBUds: What is your favorites item on the menu to cook and eat?
Jamie: We are so excited for out breakfast pastries, and the breakfast menu. It is such a unique menu, and so fun to cook.
Ken: We have a lot of fun with our burger. It's sort of a high-low combination of dry aged beef, buffalo pickles, onion soup, mayo, foie gras and jalapeño chips. Who doesn't love chips on their sandwich?
A peek into the life of two restaurateurs: 

TasteBUds: Do you believe that sharing small plates as opposed to having one plate per person creates a positive change in dining experience, and how so?
I personally like it because it helps the interaction of "breaking bread." I love that I can eat so many more things with out the guilt of not finishing a bigger plate or the guilt of over eating.

TasteBUds: What was the biggest obstacle you've had to face in the business? How did you overcome it?
Staffing a new business is always hard. We are new, and un-proven. Staying positive, and hiring for the right personalities is how we stay focused.

TasteBUds: Is it ever difficult to find local and sustainable ingredients, particularly since you are located in an urban setting affected by seasons?
Not really, we've got great connections to local farmers and purveyors that were established through our other restaurants Coppa and Toro.
TasteBUds: Do you have any unique strategies when it comes to providing excellent customer service or when it comes to managing staff?
We empower our teams to treat the restaurants like their home, and the guests in the restaurants like guests in their homes. Hello, good bye, eye contact and compassionate service. If we think of all the people coming in like this, it's easy to connect with them, and have a mutually enjoyable experience.

TasteBUds: If you were to open a third restaurant, would you stick to the same concept of tapas, or try something different? 
It's hard to say, we're still so focused on Little Donkey! But you never know what the future holds.

TasteBUds: What are some unique qualities of both your restaurants that you think make them standout from other Boston restaurants?
KO is the best at this, and has taught us all: never settle, always innovate, and do not let anything be an excuse to why you can't do something, if you really want to do it.