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Of Pig Snouts and Headcheese

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The Breslin at dinnertime.  

Her actual cooking is marked by careful study of French and Italian classics but with an infusion of the trotters and things she grew up with, so that she ends up taking some thick British beasts and coddling them in delicate pea shoots and springy beans. Take, for example, the epiphany she had at the River Café, which involved a walnut pasta that was so damn simple—just lots of fresh seasonal stuff—but that taught her you don’t need to do a lot if you have great ingredients. “It was the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten. It was like someone had hit me in the head with a great pan,” she says. “It shocked me into another palate level, and it made me question what I had been doing for the last ten years.” She wanted to re-create that feeling for her diners.

Hence, the Breslin’s Caesar salad. The romaine is crisp and the flavor is tart and bright but also deep and pleasingly fishy. It is nothing shocking—even though overenthusiastic patrons will say it is—but Bloomfield is not out there to make things that shock. She is more interested in the simple pleasures of a great mouthful. “There is something about someone making a fantastic sandwich,” she says, “taking care to spread lots of mayo all the way to the edges. Making sure every bite has a bit of everything in it. There’s something special about that.”

On a Friday morning in early fall, as Union Square shakes off the city and becomes a harvest wonderland, Bloomfield is weaving through the stalls, seeing what looks good and ripe and cool. After a run-through, she texts her foragers and tells them what to buy. She stops to take a picture with her iPhone of a beautiful clump of lavender. Then a mass of strawberries. “All chefs have pictures of food in their phones, stuffed pig’s ears and pigs’ heads and the like,” she says.

At Berried Treasures, her favorite stand, she runs into one of her pigtailed foragers. These is a coterie of young people with backpacks and bicycles who find fresh local produce and bring it to her like offerings to a queen. Before Bloomfield, and chefs like her, these kids might have been shelving books at the Strand, or caressing vinyl at Kim’s Video. Now they will bike back to the far reaches of Brooklyn with their newfound food acumen, and an obsession with mustard greens will be spread like indie music.

Here comes Scott, who has been charged with looking for a swath of farmland in upstate New York or New Jersey so Bloomfield can grow her own produce. It’s all part of the ongoing race to do everything yourself, to grow tomatoes as close as physically possible to where you cook them. If they could, chefs would plant seeds in their wrists so they could web-sling marjoram directly into their cast-iron pans.

At the next stand, where Bloomfield is impressed with the green vibrance of peppers, she runs into Trevor, a chef of Blue Hill. He’s wearing a Prosciutto e Uova Verdi T-shirt, and vaguely they acknowledge their roles in the restaurant firmament. This is the yawning early-morning conference call, when the food aristocracy comes to snap off a husk cherry and determine its debut in a salad tonight, and then later, its sudden manifestation in the collective food brain. Soon, bearded Park Slopers and Lululemon’d Upper West Side mothers will chant to the overwhelmed shelvers in their local Whole Foods: husk cherry, husk cherry.

Bloomfield’s favorite season is fall and she loves the sight of a good squash. Gourds! She loves gourds, such an American cuteness. And that over there, on flagrant display like Wilbur at the fair, is what Bloomfield refers to as a puff ball. It’s a mushroom the size of a human head, which she has never seen in this country. “I’m so excited,” she says, and she bends down to smell it, press it, love it. She sticks her fingers in its deformed holes like she’s going to bowl it.

At home on the East Side, Bloomfield has a fat cat. In the morning, she drinks tea and comes up with new recipes. “Because it’s in the morning that I’m usually quite hungry, and my ideas come easier when I’m hungry. It’s the best time to write a recipe.”

Fidgety when she is in a seat talking about herself, Bloomfield has a typical British reserve, and lately she has gotten a bit sensitive to being characterized as the offal chick, the woman splaying a pig into its many comestible parts. Pig’s feet and pig’s ears aren’t on her menu because they’re trendy, she says, but because that’s what she grew up with.


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