F&W Star Chef
New York’s April Bloomfield (an F&W Best New Chef 2007) has established two of the city’s landmark gastropubs, the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, as well as the fantastic John Dory Oyster Bar. Here, she talks to F&W about the wintertime drink she loves, the perfect party appetizer and her favorite sources for holiday chocolates.
What are your favorite holiday food gifts?
I like to buy lots of chocolates for everybody, because you can’t get enough chocolate at Christmas. The more the merrier. I like to go to Chocolate Bar in the West Village; all their bars are really good, and they make fantastic S’mores, with their own graham cracker and marshmallow and milk chocolate. I also like Li-Lac Chocolates. Their mint patties are my favorite; I like to crumble those on top of a scoop of ice cream.
What’s your favorite holiday cocktail?
Mulled wine. It’s not really a cocktail, although I do add a bit of brandy. I like to make it with red wine, warm winter spices like cinnamon and clove, and sometimes a fresh round slice of orange or lemon. You add the brandy at the end so you don’t cook off the booze too much. It’s comforting, a bit heady, and as it cooks on the stove, the scents permeate the whole house, making it feel very festive. It warms the cockles of your heart.
Can you share a great entertaining tip?
Be organized, keep it simple and have fun. I also think canapés are a great way to start a meal, particularly something sweet and salty, bright and vibrant. I like to make little cheese beignets, or small chicken salad sandwiches on wheat or white bread with some crispy chicken skin in there. Or sausage rolls, small sausages rolled up and baked in puff pastry. Canapés can help you set the tone for the rest of the evening. It’s nice to offer something to whet everyone’s palates, to prepare them for the feast.
What are 6 don’t-miss places on a holiday trip to New York City?
- FAO Schwarz, especially with children. You can pick up a nice treat that’s also unique. They just have such a wide range, like any kind of plastic dinosaur, or everything for newborns, even clothes.
- I like to go for a quick pint at Rolf’s. They have copious amounts of Christmas ornaments and trimmings. It gets really packed, so you have to get a spot, but it’s good for one drink. They also do this fun German or Bavarian kind of eggnog that they shake in a jar.
- I love going to pick up some pumpkins from the Union Square Greenmarket at Thanksgiving, and that’s also where I get my tree and sometimes Christmas ornaments at their holiday market.
- If you’re shopping along Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman is the perfect place to book an afternoon tea. They also do tea at the Plaza, but Bergdorf Goodman’s a cute one because it’s so light and airy in there. You can get tea or a glass of Champagne and a lovely selection of sandwiches and mini cakes—I could go there right now, actually.
- ABC Kitchen is always good for trinkets and a great place to eat lunch if you’re shopping till you drop.
- I always go to Myers of Keswick, an English shop in the West Village. You can pick up anything English there: mince pies, potato crisps, and any kind of English condiment. If you want to pick up some sausages for breakfast for Christmas morning, theirs are delicious and classically English. They also have really nice bacon. I like to pick up my Christmas pudding there, and they also have Christmas pies.
What’s your most requested recipe?
Maybe the gnudi at The Spotted Pig, but now I suppose people can buy the book. They’re so light and fluffy, they’re kind of like little fluffy clouds of love, and so I think people kind of fall in love when the soft cheese first pops in their mouth. The key is to let them sit for a while in the fridge before cooking them, because they need to form this fine outer coating. The longer you leave them, the thicker the coat.
At home I have this go-to roast duck recipe that I do for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which people seem to keep coming back for. First you poke the duck in the fatty area down by the wings, then salt it and throw it into a 350° oven, where you cook it for about 3 hours. During the last hour you dab it with a glaze of balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, using a pastry brush. It gets really juicy and takes on a lovely color. I usually make that with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes, and it seems to go over well.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Among my top 10, I’d say:
- Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson. I was lucky to work with Simon, so when I read the book I can hear his voice and it brings back memories. I love his stories, they’re very transporting.
- Honey from a Weed, by Patience Gray. There’s a bit of humor to her writing and I quite like that in cookbooks; she has one recipe for fish stew, which she starts with, “Take a flight to Barcelona to buy the fish.” She also gives you that nice sense of being present and alongside her, visiting these places like Tuscany and Catalonia, and cooking with her.
- Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman. It’s so informative and straightforward and it has the most amazing sausage recipes that actually work. Once you learn those you can make your own flavors of sausages—it’s just incredibly useful.
Best cheap (under $10) gadget?
A cheap paring knife by Victorinox or L’Econome. I have a lovely bright green one at home that I just posted on Instagram. I particularly like curved paring knives; their blades are a little shorter, so they’re perfect for trimming something in your hand, like if you need to top and tail a carrot, or quarter an apple.
One technique everyone should know?
How to roast a bird—a chicken or a duck. Try to source a great bird that you’re happy with—I look for an even ratio of leg to breast. I don’t like the breasts to be too skinny because they tend to dry out. If I’m cooking at home, I like the Belle Rouge chicken from Violet Hill—they’re super delicious. Then I just very gently season it and maybe rub some butter on it with a bit of olive oil, put it in a hot oven until it gets some color, then turn the oven down and keep basting it. To know if it’s done, I gently stick a fork or the tip of a paring knife into the deepest part of the bird, around the thigh, to make sure the juices are running clear.
Why she won Because her terrific gastropub menu infuses modest British dishes with spirit and sophistication.
Born Birmingham, England; 1974.
Education Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies, Birmingham, England.
Experience Kensington Place, Bibendum and River Café, London; Roscoff (one Michelin star), Belfast, Ireland; Chez Panisse, Berkeley, CA.
How she got into the food business "My sisters were already at cooking school. I didn’t get into the profession I wanted—being a police officer. My mom sat me down and asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I’ll cook.’ "
First serious kitchen job Working the roast section at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant in Birmingham. "I had never cooked beef rib in my life. They even let me do my own garnish. It was nerve-racking for a 19-year-old, but I had a good go. I felt very privileged."
Best learning experience Working at London’s River Café "for four very happy years. My palate went to a higher consciousness. It was like, Wow, what have I been doing for the last four years?"
How she came to the Spotted Pig Through Jamie Oliver. "Ken Friedman [a Spotted Pig owner] knew Jamie; Jamie had worked at River Café and told Ken about me. Ken brought me over for a whirlwind weekend of food and drink, and to meet Mario [Batali, another Spotted Pig owner]. We all clicked."
Biggest influences River Café’s Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.
Most memorable cooking experience Cooking on the line at Chez Panisse. "What a trip."
Favorite childhood dish Shepherd’s pie. "Especially at school, when I was doing home economics. When everyone else was making chocolate Rice Krispies Treats, I was having a go at shepherd’s pie."
Favorite kitchen tool A mezzaluna. "I use it for everything—to mince garlic, chop herbs, anchovies, capers. But it’s got to be sharp, or you’re going to mush your ingredients to death. It keeps me in touch with the Italian side of cooking; it’s like, this is what it’s about."
All-time most-memorable meals The Square in London; Craft in New York City.
Fantasy splurge Japan. "The whole thing. I haven’t been."
Favorite cheap eat Tuck Shop in Manhattan’s East Village. "It’s my friend’s Australian-style pie shop; I’m addicted to it. I can’t walk by it without getting a pie. I love the Thai chicken with kaffir lime, lemongrass, Thai basil and chiles. It’s got nice spice, and I like spice. It’s $5 per pie; they’re handmade and perfectly seasoned."
Favorite guilty pleasure Spicy chicken wings. "I go to the Waterfront Ale House [in New York City]. They make their own hot sauce. I just brought my kitchen staff a bottle."
Ingredient obsession Smoked food. "I’m still trying to find the classic smoked trout and smoked haddock. It’s like trying to find the most perfect sneaker; it might take a year. I don’t have the space to do it myself, and I want to source things that are local. I don’t want to get my smoked herrings from England."
What she’d be if she weren’t a chef A deejay. "I’m not very good, though—I do it every now and again."
Favorite cookbook "Right now I’m into [French chef] Stéphane Reynaud’s new book, Pork & Sons. It’s a book all about the pig. It’s so elegant; it has lovely little hand-drawn pictures of pigs and pork dishes, and a lovely, spongy soft cover. It’s from Phaidon."