She likes her animals whole.
April Bloomfield once dreamt of policing the streets of her native Birmingham. Lucky for us, that fell through. April resorted to culinary school, moving on to work in such lauded restaurants as the River Cafe and Chez Panisse, before she strolled into the spotlight as the chef/owner of NYC’s original gastropub, The Spotted Pig, followed by the Ace Hotel’s Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar. We chat with April about her new cookbook, England’s pub culture and respecting the whole animal.
AndrewZimmern.com: You were on the forefront of the gastropub craze with The Spotted Pig. What inspired the menu?
April Bloomfield: I didn’t want just a classic pub menu. In England, the pubs often have all the same stuff on the menu, so with The Spotted Pig I decided I wanted to cook restaurant quality food in a casual setting. I wanted to have dishes on the menu that you can nibble on while having a pint or you can have a full meal if you want. I chose dishes that I was really excited about and enjoy making. I love using seasonal produce, so that really influenced the menu too. There are some classic dishes on the menu that have been on since the beginning, like the burger and the gnudi, but working with seasonal produce has allowed us to keep changing the menu and lets us be creative with the food.
AZ.com: What was the most rewarding part of writing and compiling recipes for A Girl and Her Pig?
AB: The most rewarding part was seeing all of the stories come together. I really wanted this book to thank everyone that has helped me get to where I am today. It was so nice being able to reminisce about good times and great food. I was so happy that I got to include so many personal stories and recipes in the book. For example, I was able to include some stories about Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers who I worked with at the River Café. The time I spent working with them was so important and such a big influence on my cooking, that it was great to share that in my book.
AZ.com: Which recipe in your new book is most dear to you?
AB: I love the recipe for roasted veal shanks with white wine and shallots. It has a special story behind it. It was inspired by a trip I took to Florida with Fergus [Henderson] where we got to eat lunch cooked by Marcella Hazan. It was great to have Fergus there and Marcella was so nice to cook for us. She made the most delicious spinach pappardelle with ragu and then these wonderful veal shanks. These are the ones that I recreate in my book. The veal shanks were a bit sticky and chewy, and she stuck two spoons inside the hollow of the bone directly into the marrow. The whole meal was amazing, but I loved the veal shanks best. It was so nice to have that moment shared between five passionate people. It is something I will always remember.
AZ.com: Born and raised in Birmingham, what do you miss most about England?
AB: I miss the pubs and pub culture. Bars here are nice, but there’s something quite special about the pubs in England. There is a special hum of chatting in a pub that I miss a lot. I miss the people and leisurely lunches too. A leisurely lunch in England could last four to five hours and go into the next service, with lots of great wine, good food, great friends. I don’t get to do that much anymore.
AZ.com: You prescribe to a nose-to-tail ethos, why do you feel it is important to embrace the whole animal movement?
AB: I respect a lot of things in my life and I handle things with respect, whether it be an almond or pots and pans. I like to take care of things. That translates into the whole animal ethos. I like to be respectful of the animals I cook with and know where the meat comes from. I think it’s important to use as much of the animal as possible. It helps connect you with your food. In my restaurants we use everything, from the nose to the tail to make things like terrines, sausages and bacon.
AZ.com: On the contrary, what vegetables can steal the show?
AB: A lot of people don’t know that I love vegetables. I love that they’re so versatile. The vegetables I cook over and over again are things like roast vegetables. They take on a fleshier, more complex flavor, so much so that you might even confuse them for a big hunk of meat. I love bringing out the sugars in vegetables because they create a sweet caramelized coating. Vegetables can be more complex than people think. I’d be quite happy eating a plate of roast vegetables the same as if I were eating a plate of steak. In my book, I have a recipe for roast vegetables where you brown them first so you get some caramelized bits, then you roast them in the oven until they get creamy. They’re delicious.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
AB: I usually have lots of milk for my tea. I frequently have provolone and salami and I always have an assortment of vegetables like broccoli, broccoli rabe, carrots and onions. And at all times, I have butter and a number of jams. I also like to keep beer and wine, and sometimes champagne.
Check out April’s recipe for Roasted Veal Shanks from her debut cookbook A Girl and Her Pig.
April Bloomfield has spent most of her life in the kitchen and had the pleasure of working with some of the most revolutionary chefs before taking on a kitchen of her own. A native of Birmingham, England, April began her culinary studies at Birmingham College. From there, she went on to hone her craft through cook positions in various kitchens throughout London and Northern Ireland, including Kensington Place and Bibendum. It was under the guidance of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at The River Café where she learned to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of food.Before moving to New York, April spent the summer of 2003 in Berkeley, California at the legendary Chez Panisse. In February 2004, April and restaurateur Ken Friedman opened New York City’s first gastropub, The Spotted Pig. Under April’s direction, The Spotted Pig has earned one star from the Michelin Guide for six consecutive years, and since 2010, April & Ken’s The Breslin Bar & Dining Room also earned a star in the esteemed guidebook. A Food & Wine “Best New Chef,” April continues to receive widespread attention for her food. In fall 2010, she and Ken opened The John Dory Oyster Bar, which joined The Breslin at New York’s Ace Hotel and earned a glowing, two-star review from the New York Times. April’s first cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, was published by Ecco in April 2012.