It’s four o’clock on a Thursday in the barroom of the Breslin, a grand meaty pub with animal heads and medieval chandeliers. A man in his forties appears to be interviewing a brunette in her early twenties. He has a résumé in his hand and every time she looks down at her red wine he looks at her chest.
“My mom goes on ten-mile walks every day,” she is saying, “so I understand commitment.”
Beside them, a young man with a popped collar reads the new William Gibson over a Guinness. A blonde in pearls and a man in a suit sit across from each other at one of the communal bar tables, their laptops back-to-back like a game of Battleship.
The Breslin, opened last year in the terribly cool Ace Hotel, is the fatter, vested brother of the Spotted Pig, run by the same snout-and-jowl duo, Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield. In the span of just seven years, Bloomfield has helped change the way we eat—in bars, without tablecloths, with fatty ales and laptops for friends, relentlessly local, laid-back and coolly casual but still epicurean and expensive.
Inside the Breslin’s kitchen it’s breathlessly hot and smells like fresh sausage. A pig’s foot swivels heavily in a pan, waiting for its local radishes. Pools of fat bubble inside curling tongues of bacon. A tattooed redhead is screaming orders. Another gruff girl shouts, “Give me your Microplane please, right now! Right now!” as though this were an adventure film and the Microplane is the rope off the edge of the cliff.
Among the punk soldiers in white coats, Bloomfield is quietly tossing a kale salad. Wearing loose jeans, clogs, and no makeup, with her strawberry hair in a bun, she floats around the room, tasting things quickly and unobtrusively, like a squirrel. She tops the lamb burgers with their sourdough hats, plucks fries from one tin and bequeaths them to an order with less. As her soldiers yell and shuffle and grate the life out of a wedge of Parmesan, Bloomfield is serene and diligent and almost meek, as if she were not the woman they are all trying to please.
Legend goes that when Ken Friedman was looking for a chef to helm the Spotted Pig back in 2003, he enlisted the help of his friend Mario Batali. Batali told him if that Bloomfield was the right person for the job, he would be able to tell him so in ten minutes. The two men took Bloomfield on a food tour of New York, from pizza to dumplings, and sometime in between Batali gave Friedman a thumbs-up behind Bloomfield’s back.
“I was excited and nervous and I didn’t know who Ken was, I didn’t know who Mario Batali was,” Bloomfield says. “We ate a lot of food but we didn’t talk about cooking too much. Mario looked at the burns on my arm and I guess he thought I was a tough cookie.”
Bloomfield had planned to be a policewoman in Birmingham, England, until she didn’t get her application in on time. Thanks to that bit of tardiness, she instead decided to follow her two sisters into cooking, working her way up the line in restaurants around London. She worked for Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray at London’s River Café and later spent a summer with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. But when fellow Brit and River Café alumnus Jamie Oliver recommended her to Friedman, she was still a relative unknown. Her debut at the Spotted Pig drew a lot of attention—not just because of the involvement of Batali and several high-profile investors (Bono and Jay-Z), but because Bloomfield was running a new kind of restaurant that brought together several foodie threads: serious snout-to-tail cooking with a religious adherence to fresh/local/seasonal ingredients, served in a casual atmosphere with a tone of clubby downtown cool. As Anthony Bourdain puts it: “She pretty much wrote the all-time book on how to come from someplace else and make New York love you.”
Bloomfield’s cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, comes out in 2012, but beyond that and a few odd interviews and TV appearances, she keeps her head in her pots. She’s in the kitchen at the Pig on some nights, the Breslin on most others, and getting the new John Dory Oyster Bar (also in the Ace) ready for opening in early November. She also maintains a food-exchange program with father of head-to-tail eating Fergus Anderson of St. John—they switch spots on occasion to keep up with each other’s shore.
“She’s never worked the room, she’s never played the game,” says Bourdain, “and yet everybody knows who she is—she’s one of the only high-profile chefs who’s almost never on TV, she rarely gives interviews, and every time I walk into the Breslin or the Spotted Pig, I look back there and she’s standing behind the line, actually cooking.”