"Every now and again I'll walk down the street, see an iconic building like the Flatiron and think, 'ooh, I live in New York City!' I can't explain why, but I feel comfortable here."
Chef April Bloomfield is incredibly friendly to sit across a table with. Rolling laughter punctuates her sentences, especially when recalling famous clientele she rarely recognizes or the joys of puttering around her apartment on a rare day off. As employees come and go, she stops to smile and thank them by name. After the words are done, she's right back at home in the kitchen.
Bloomfield's first book, A Girl and Her Pig, just came out on April 10th, and it's a beauty. It's filled with the rich recipes that make diners at The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John Dory swoon, and is specked with personal stories of her journey. You'll be a better cook for reading it, even before you pick up a knife. We chatted with Bloomfield about making the book, and about how a chef from Birmingham, England won over the stomachs of New Yorkers.
Jamie Oliver gave your name to your now-business partner, Ken Friedman, who was looking to open a restaurant in New York. What were you doing the time? I was working at the River Café, and I was really happy there. I was a sous chef: writing menus, going on trips to Italy, running service, and just cooking all this amazing food. But I got offered this job and I wanted to push myself personally; to meet new people, have new experiences and eat different food.
What was your reaction when you got that call? I was like, "oh, yeah, get him to call me." I was really blasé about the whole thing, actually! But it was obviously a great decision to make. I was ready; I was ready to see something different.
How did you go about configuring your menu? I wanted to make high-quality restaurant food in a casual setting. So I just kind of put on stuff that I knew how to cook, some things I had cooked in previous restaurants, and put on a few things that I tweaked a little bit. And that's how you kind of grow: you keep tweaking until you come up with your own style, I suppose.
Obviously New York has responded well. But what makes you most excited about what you make for us? I just love to cook in general. I love to make things tasty. Cooking bad food is not in my frame, so consistency and doing more than just small twists to food mean a lot. Whether it's from a book or a dish I've eaten while traveling, I like coming back and creating it.
Which is what you were doing in London before, a lot, right? Yes, exactly. That was a big thing with Rose and Ruth [of River Café]; they'd take us to Italy and we'd just eat food. They were so amazing, passionate and unique—and so inspiring. They'd eat something just sort of mediocre and take it back and make it into something very delicious.
You've been here since 2004. Is New York home yet? Yeah, I feel like this is my home, definitely. Every now and again I'll walk down the street, see an iconic building like the Flatiron, and think, "ooh, I live in New York!" I can't explain why, but I feel comfortable here.
Any favorite restaurants or spots where you like to hang out? I love Chinatown—I love going for dim sum. I don't get to Brooklyn enough. I wish I could get my ass to Brooklyn more; I think it's such a special place, but I just can't seem to get on that subway.
Your first cookbook just came out. Any unexpected moments while creating it? I started off with quite a lot of recipes—I think I have 100 in the book but I started with a lot more. That was the biggest challenge: getting it down to fantastic recipes that people would really want to make.
Any unexpected joys or things that excited you? I loved working with JJ [Goode]—he's a really special guy and did a great job of keeping me on track. Except for asking me whether I'd measured stuff; that wasn't quite so joyous, a little bit annoying actually! As cooks we're so instinctual; I'd throw stuff together and before you know it he'd be like, "how did you make that? When did you make that between the five other recipes?"
What is the book about to you? You know, it's always nice to know where you've come from. I'm a girl from Birmingham. I come from a working class family and I've had this great opportunity in my life to meet people and eat great food and travel. I'm quite a shy person in general, but I wanted to get my voice across and people to get to know me a little bit better.
If there's one thing you want us to learn from it, what would you say that is? Be open—things change. It's good to be aware of an ingredient from the moment you buy it, to the moment you prep, cook and eat it. Because things are just not "the same." A tomato in one part of the season isn't the same as another tomato in another season. Just learn to trust your own palate, and keep training your palate to know how to work with something to make it delicious.
There was a time you were looking at farmland upstate. Outside of the obvious (supplying for your restaurants), what would it do for you personally? I feel really comfortable when I'm around vegetables and pigs, so it's really good for my soul. It would also be great for my chefs; it's important for them to know where stuff comes from.
You work crazy hours, obviously. If you were to have an entire day to do anything you wanted out side of the kitchen, what would you do? Let's say explore Brooklyn?