Fair-skinned and soft spoken, April Bloomfield sits in a back booth at The Breslin at the Ace Hotel and speaks with a gentle Midlands drawl. Since arriving in New York to open The Spotted Pig in 2003, Bloomfield has shepherded in the era of the gastropub. She, as much as Fergus Henderson, is to thank (or blame) for the snout-to-tail cooking craze. On the eve of the opening of The John Dory Oyster Bar and shortly before dinner service, we spoke over a plate of crunchy kale and anchovy dressing.
When you first arrived in New York, most of the interviews told the same story: A Brummie girl is brought to the city by a couple of heavy hitters and she's thrown into the center of a star-studded culinary world. That was 2003. Seven years after, do you feel like an outsider?
When I first arrived, it was hard. Nobody could understand a word I said. I'd have to repeat myself three or four times. Now I don't have to do that. But I feel like New York was very welcoming to me being British. People I'd meet in general would fall in love with a British accent.
I heard a rumor you and [Spotted Pig partner] Ken Friedman might start a farm?
We want to, yes. We've been looking everywhere — in New Paltz and Wassaic, we even dabbled in New Jersey — but we still haven't quite found it yet. There's so many restaurants in the city, it's really hard to get produce you think is handled with care and better-produced. I don't want to buy from big corporate distributors. I want to be able to produce stuff myself, put it on the table and have fun with it.
Who are you competing with?
Places like Daniel and Jean Georges have been here and have been established far longer than The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. I'm sure they have first dibs on whatever they get. The produce that we get is fantastic, but I want something much more substantial. I'd have better control. It wouldn't all be a bed of roses. Your season might be shitty and things get lost. You might have a hail storm that fucks up the whole crop. I'm realistic but I want to start off small and eventually grow to something bigger.
It's funny because the menus here and at the Spotted Pig are so heavy, it doesn't seem incredibly seasonal.
By heavy you mean meat-wise? I don't think that's true. I'm very seasonally-orientated. If you look at the menu you see salads and vegetables and they're all from the market. In the winter maybe [it's meat-heavy], but you want to eat that stuff. Right now, in the summer, we don't have any of that saucy stuff. There's a little bit of a dressing here and there but it's not all bone marrow — I don't have bone marrow on the menu. I have pig's foot, but it comes with something lighter.
Are you constantly experimenting with new dishes?
The third floor of the Spotted Pig is our little recipe-testing center. I'm using it for my cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig right now, which I'm writing with JJ Goode. It'll be out in 2012. It's a book about people and things that inspired me to cook stuff.
People like who?
Rose Gray, Ruthie Rogers [both of the River Café], [cookbook author] Simon Hopkinsons, Rowleigh Leigh [of Le Cafe Anglais], all those English chefs and random stuff that I tasted since I've been in New York. For example, I never had Filipino food before I came to New York. I think New York is so unique. You've got really well-made cheap food. You can get British, Japanese, Korean...
What's your favorite restaurant?
I revert back to Chinatown on my day off. My Vietnamese place is Thai Son on Baxter. I love Eleven Madison Park, for something special. I like Maialino quite a lot.
Do you hang out with a lot of chefs on your time off?
I spend time with Sue Torres and Anita Lo. When Dave Chang comes in, I'll sit with him. But I'm a homebody. I like to stay at home and drink copious amounts of tea.
Surely you must do more than drink tea.
I like to fish. Sometimes I go fly fishing in Colorado or Upstate. I'm not very good.
You know who is a big fisherman, Jacques Torres. I think he lives on his boat.
I've already been fishing with Tom Colicchio. That was fun. I didn't catch a thing. I brought bananas on the boat and I didn't know that bananas are bad luck on a boat. I fucked the whole thing up. We didn't catch a fucking thing. I blame the bananas.
You're opening the John Dory Oyster Bar at the Ace Hotel, by October 1st. On the eve of its reincarnation, Tell me about what happened at the original John Dory, which closed last August.
The first location was a bit sucky. It was too small. People had this preconceived idea we were busy all the time. We were from seven to ten, but the rest of the time we weren't. And the weather was terrible. It was 10th Avenue, a wind tunnel. It would rain and people would just cancel. It was also the timing. We opened just when the stock market crashed. That sucked, too.
Was that your first setback?
Yes. I've always been quite successful or at least I've done what I wanted to do and had joy from it. I'm not saying I didn't have fun with the John Dory but it took a big chunk away from me when that closed.
But now that chunk is growing back?
We always wanted to make a point of reopening the John Dory. But it it's not going to be the John Dory. It's going to be an oyster bar. I really got into making crudo there, so we're going to do more of that. We have this little pan-roast system like in Grand Central Oyster Bar and so we're going to do more stews. It's going to be more small plates. Clean, punchy, tasty bits of small plates. When we first opened the John Dory, we spun it as British. But this time we got our story straight, it's Mediterranean. You can only do so much with British food.
It's funny that Ken and you are slowly taking over the entire hotel.
There won't be anything else in this hotel but it's good fun. The Breslin is hugely successful. I'm excited to open the John Dory again. Then I'll finish my cookbook and take a holiday.
Speaking of the future, what do you see as your trajectory. You'll have a cookbook. You have two successful restaurants, about to be three. Will there be an April Bloomfield television show on the Food Network?
I don't know. I'm just trying to keep my head down now. I'd like to open a bakery. I'd like to get this farm set up. Ken's really great at focusing on a bunch of things. He has more energy than anyone I know. He wants to do stuff and it's fantastic, but I like to keep my head down and focus on certain things at certain times.
Would you be happy expanding to, for example, Vegas or Dubai or wherever?
I don't have any interest in doing that. There's only going to be one Spotted Pig and that's on west 11th and Greenwich. I think Ken feels the same way. Maybe he doesn't but I think he does.