Abram Bissell is a native of the Florida Keys who worked in Boston at L’Espalier before shifting his attention to New York. He rose up the ranks at Eleven Madison Park and is now chef de cuisine at sister establishment, The NoMad. I met him at a Pebble Beach Food & Wine Grand Tasting, which is where he shared insights into his background and approach.
Was it a given that you would become a chef, or did you consider other careers?
I grew up in the Florida Keys, South Florida, so there weren’t a lot of options if you wanted work. You cooked or you fished. It’s kind of what you did, and I got seasick, so I did a lot of cooking when I was young.
Islamorada. I also had a family member that owned this café when I was a kid, so I did spend a lot of time in restaurants from very young.
What was that café?
Tropical Café. It’s not there anymore. It was a breakfast and lunch spot. It was good exposure to food and let me know this is something I love doing.
What do you remember about your very first night in a professional kitchen?
When I was younger, I worked in fish houses growing up. I remember my first high-end job. I worked in Boston at L’Espalier. I just remember being nervous. That was the feeling. You see a chef cooking and don’t know if that’s something you can hold up to, or if they’re going to scream at you or throw something. It was fearful. That’s what it feels like in the beginning.
Do you still feel nervous in the kitchen?
Sometimes. Sure. Absolutely. There are times when a reviewer comes in, or you’re trying to make sure someone’s impressed at an important dinner. It takes more to get nervous, but it still happens.
What does a dish have to be to go on your menu at The NoMad?
It has to be universally enjoyed. I have a pretty large management staff at The NoMad, nine sous chefs, and we always develop the menu together. Seasonally focused, of course, and everyone has to agree it’s something that should go on our menu, before it goes on. It can take weeks, months sometimes, to develop something that should go on there.
What was the last dish that you created and what was your inspiration?
We just put ramps on with a fish dish, and the ramps were the inspiration. Usually, the inspiration we found for any dish is going to be the ingredient. It’s going to be what’s going on with the season, what’s tasting the best, and let it expand from there. Although we’re not a vegetarian restaurant, we do place a lot of our focus on vegetables. At least six dishes on the menu, at all times, are always vegetable focused, whether entrees or appetizers.
Do you have a top selling dish?
Our whole roasted chicken.
Why do you think your chicken’s the dish that sells the most?