21 August 2014

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Starter for 10: interview with April Bloomfield


april bloomfield 2012 - April-Bloomfield---high-res_2012_resized.jpgSquare Meal speaks to Birmingham-born chef April Bloomfield, who made her name bringing the gastropub concept to New York with celebrated Big Apple haunt The Spotted Pig, and who this week will return to the UK for a two-day cooking stint at St John Hotel, from 30-31 October.

How have you found cooking for Americans when you grew up eating and cooking British food?

I think overall, it’s been a really good ride so far – my food has been very well received. I think New Yorkers are quite adventurous, so it’s a really good city to be cooking in. Weirdly though, the longer I’ve lived in New York, the more I’ve gone back to my roots – when we opened The Breslin, we put a lot more pies on the menu, and we do Scotch eggs there, too.

What differences have you noticed between the American and British approach to food and eating out?

People in New York eat out a lot more than Brits do because their apartments are really small. A lot of New Yorkers go to their local neighbourhood restaurant probably four or five times a week. I also think New Yorkers have a tendency to spend more money on eating out locally – they treat their local restaurant as their living room. I think the standard of local food is higher in most New York neighbourhoods than it is here. If I moved back to Britain, I’d miss those local places.

Can you see any trends in New York that could come to London?

I think London itself is trending right now. In Soho there are a lot more of those New York-style local restaurants, like Polpo, Spuntino and Fernandez & Wells. They’re fun and exciting to see – especially for someone coming from New York.

I think New York has seen a lot more taco places and Mexican restaurants open recently, which is fun because it’s a casual style of food with a very different taste profile. It would be nice for that trend to come over to England, and I hear a few Mexican places are already opening up.

What do you miss about Britain?

I miss going to the pub – the time spent with friends over a leisurely, boozy Sunday lunch that you know will finish late in the day. In New York, you always have to eat and run. Everyone is so focused in New York.

Do you think the New Yorker work ethic made you push yourself even harder to become a success?

No, not really. I think my drive comes from my working-class background and wanting to push myself to progress and be successful. I have always worked hard and been pretty focused; I don’t think New York has made me that way. Coming from a family of hard workers from Birmingham has probably done more for me in that respect.

Do you have any rituals in the kitchen?

I always start my day with a nice cup of tea: PG Tips. I usually read a newspaper or a cookbook while I drink my tea, and that’s the time of day when I get my ideas. I’m just waking up and getting hungry and I start thinking about food and what ingredients would work together for the dish I have in mind. I usually play around with a new idea later that day, or I might tell my chefs about it and they’ll run with it. I don’t let my chefs create dishes of their own, though, without talking to me first: I don’t like people freestyling.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

I got some really great advice when I was finishing my first job at Kensington Place and about to start my new job at Bibendum. Somebody said to me: 'I know you’ve learned a lot here, but when you go to your new job, you need to go in there as if you don’t know anything, because then you’ll be open to different ways of cooking and different approaches.' I’d give the same advice to chefs starting out now: listen; pay attention; be a sponge; write everything down.

What is your food heaven and hell?

I love French yoghurt , white truffles, jam, salami, cheese, pork… I love biscuits and could eat a whole packet in one go. As for my hates, I don’t like honey: I don’t want to touch it, smell it or cook with it – it’s banned from the kitchen and we use maple syrup or agave instead. I should have hypnotherapy or something, because it’s really the only thing that I hate.

Are female chefs regarded more as a woman in a man’s world here in the UK or in the States?

I didn’t come into this business thinking I was a woman in a man’s world. I just did what I did, got my head down, worked hard, and tried to progress at a speed I was comfortable with. I didn’t see any discrimination against women; I can only speak from experience. It comes down to whether you can do the job, rather than your gender.

There are rumours that you will open a restaurant in London in the next few years. Where are you at with that project?

I love London and I’d love to come back to England and do something one day, but I don’t know when. I would want to keep the restaurants in New York going because they’re my babies. A London restaurant would be an addition, but we’ll see what happens.

April Bloomfield’s first cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, is out on 1 November, published by Canongate (£25.00).

by Nicky Evans, with additional reporting by Nicole Fougere and Casey Rackham. Interview conducted October 2012.

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