April Bloomfield has managed a difficult trick with The Spotted Pig, converting even jaded New Yorkers into fans of British gastropub fare. Her take on traditional foods earned the restaurant a Michelin star shortly after opening in 2004, and since then a seat at one of her tables has been a hot commodity. The Brit recently teamed up with Spotted Pig partner Ken Friedman to open The Breslin, a nose-to-tail carnivore's mecca described in the New York Times as “Hogwarts for hipsters,“ in the Ace Hotel. We grabbed a few minutes with Bloomfield shortly after the debut.
RH: What's the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career so far?
Bloomfield: From the River Café (in London, where she spent four years): Always keep it simple, and let the ingredients shine for themselves.
RH: Describe one or two memorable meals in your life.
Bloomfield: One was a lunch at the River Café, before I started working there. One dish consisted of sardines, pine nuts and breadcrumbs. The sardines were beautifully moist, and the crunchy breadcrumbs really popped in the mouth. I also ordered a spicy arugula and mushroom tagliatele. It was perfectly cooked and the best thing I'd ever eaten. Here in New York, I've been to Eleven Madison Park a few times, and each time it's been an amazing meal — very crisp, clean and precise. Daniel Humm is a great chef, and he seems very humble and down to earth. And it's a great room.
RH: What do you frown upon in the kitchen?
Bloomfield: Disorganization. Anybody who is unclean in their work and (things like) like dirty jackets. Not tasting. If you are in a kitchen, you have to taste.
RH: What do you miss most about home?
Bloomfield: I miss my friends and having the time to hang out with them, drink beer in a pub or go home and relax. When you run a restaurant, you kind of lose that because have a huge responsibility for upkeep and running the place well.
As for food, I miss plaice, a flat fish that is a bit like flounder. I miss getting fish with heads on. That way, you can see what it's like — whether it's fresh.
RH: So with a new restaurant, it sounds like your days are a bit hectic.
Bloomfield: I'm pretty much always working. You have to work out the kinks and sometimes it takes a long time to do that and get a crew who you're happy with and who are happy with you. Chefs work hard — that's just a rule. If you want to be a chef and don't like to work a lot, you might as well not go into it.
RH: You do manage to get away occasionally, though. We hear you were in Mongolia recently. How was that?
Bloomfield: I had a great time. We stayed in a yurt with a fireplace and just hung out, walked and fished and did some hunting. About 13 people in total went, including a handful of chefs. We also spent four days in Seoul, where we visited the fish market. It was fantastic.
RH: Outside of your own restaurants, where do you like to eat, and what are some of your favorite dishes?
Bloomfield: I like to eat in cheap places that serve spicy noodles, Vietnamese, Japanese. You can eat dim sum for $8 in Chinatown and come out stuffed and happy.
RH: What's your favorite new ingredient?
Bloomfield: I just found a new pork product from Montreal: milk-fed pigs that are 10 weeks old, They range around 50 pounds, and they're sweet and delicious.
RH: What kitchen tool, ingredient or piece of equipment do you consider indispensable?
Bloomfield: One is a sharp knife, which can help you can get through your jobs twice as fast. Also a pestle and mortar. My food is becoming more rustic, so I like using my hands and mashing up herbs and olive oil in a pestle and mortar and spreading the paste on meat.
RH: Anything that you think is used way too much?
Bloomfield: A lot of people are now using sous vide, which definitely has its place. For me, cooking on a line with my own instincts is more challenging. It's a matter of making sure every pigeon you cook is perfect or every piece of fish is cooked the same way to the same preciseness with 200 covers.
RH: Did you ever experiment with a dish and surprise yourself?
Bloomfield: I don't experiment very often. I play around, but it's usually tweaking dishes I've already done. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, just cook great food and have fun and hopefully people enjoy the food I cook. I like figuring things out.
RH: Many people probably know that you started out wanting to do police work. How did the 360-degree career shift happen?
Bloomfield: I was 16 and about to leave school. I sent in an application, but it was too late, so it was rejected. My two sisters were enrolled at a catering college, so I decided to do that until I turned 18 and reapply to the police force. But enjoyed myself so much that I stayed with it.
Every now and again have these moments where I wonder if I should to apply to the police force — and I did, before moving here. I was accepted, but it was not what I wanted — it was for the transport police. Then this great opportunity came along.