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Grub Street’s Guide to Penning an April Bloomfield Profile

Photo: Melissa Hom

First New York penned a profile on April Bloomfield, then The New Yorker followed with another one, and now Bloomfield mania has apparently crossed the pond. A month ago, the widely worshipped Breslin, John Dory and Spotted Pig chef scored a five-page profile in the Daily Telegraph’s Telegraph Magazine (unfortunately not online), and now the Guardian chimes in with another fawning feature. Though it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know by now, it might be useful to the next journalist who wants to pen a Bloomfield profile, so just like we did with sexy-butcher trend pieces, let’s take a look at it and break down the formula, shall we? Here’s what you do.

In telling how Ken Friedman teamed up with Michael Stipe, Mario Batali, etc. to open the Spotted Pig, describe him as at once charming and easily distracted.
New Yorker: “Friedman, a hyperactive charmer, has been going out seven nights a week for three decades.”
Guardian: “I am eating lunch with her business partner, Ken Friedman, a tall, rather haphazard man who used to manage bands including the Smiths and UB40. Friedman has a somewhat wobbly attention span.”

Point out that she and Friedman are an odd couple, but hey, it works.
New Yorker: “Friedman and Bloomfield make an odd but symbiotic professional couple.”
The Guardian: “The story of the odd couple, Ken and April, and how they rose to the very top of New York’s dog-eat-dog restaurant scene is the stuff of legend by now (or if not legend, then at least of long profiles in the New Yorker).”

Describe how Jamie Oliver originally turned down the Pig gig.
New Yorker: “‘I can’t do it,’ Oliver told Friedman and Batali. ‘But there is someone I think you should meet. She’s a British woman.’”
Guardian: “Alas, even after a few drinks, Oliver could not be persuaded. He did, though, suggest that they meet a young British sous chef at his old employer, the River Cafe. Her name was April Bloomfield.”

Mention how she went on a food tour with Friedman and Batali, and how she didn’t know who Batali was, and how he liked her scars.
New York: “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.’”
New Yorker: “So, in the spring of 2003, Bloomfield flew to New York for a job interview that turned out to be something between a fraternity rush and a competitive eating event: tuna burgers at Union Square Café, dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, lobster rolls at Pearl Oyster Bar, pastrami sandwiches at the Carnegie Deli, apple cider at the Greenmarket in Union Square… Thanks to a missing fingernail and some scars on her forearms, she had passed the fifteen-second test. Friedman recalled, “Mario said, ‘It means she’ll sacrifice her body. She’s a star. I can tell.’”
Guardian: “A little to her surprise, this consisted of a 10-hour marathon during which she and Batali and Friedman ate at some of the city’s best known restaurants, among them the Union Square Cafe, the Carnegie Deli, and Batali’s own Babbo. No doubt Batali was impressed by Bloomfield’s appetite. Mostly, though, it was her war wounds that pleased him: a missing fingernail, scars on her arms. ‘It means she’ll sacrifice her body,’ Batali is supposed to have said. ‘She’s a star. I can tell.’ They offered her the job.”

Tell how she was about to back out of the job because of a tofu hot dog, but then Friedman was like “Okay, I’ll let you do your thing.”
New Yorker: “‘I wrote, “Some of my investors and friends are vegans, and I was thinking, like, a tofu hot dog,”’ Friedman recalled. ‘She wrote back, “If you’re thinking tofu hot dog, maybe I’m not the girl for you. In fact, I’m not interested in tofu at all.”’ From then on, Friedman butted out of the food.”
Guardian: “Did she and Ken agree right from the start on what kind of food they would serve at the Pig? “Not really. He wanted to do tofu hot dogs. I was very concerned. I sent him an email telling him what I was most passionate about, and I ended it by saying: look, I might not be the right chef for you.’ Ken promptly backed off, and has left her alone ever since. He deals only with front of house, leaving April, who is emphatically not a schmoozer, to get on with her work.”

Mention the mayonnaise ban.
New Yorker: “The condiments policy has long been a subject of contention between Bloomfield and her business partner, Ken Friedman, who schmoozes while she cooks. He dispenses surreptitious dollops to favored customers from a jar of Hellman’s that he keeps hidden on a high shelf.”
The Guardian: “Is she as severe as people say? The mythology is that Ken has a secret store of mayonnaise, which he dispenses surreptitiously to customers who want it on their burgers.”

Mention how calm Bloomfield is in the kitchen.
New York: “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.”
The Guardian: “She made for an amazing sight: quiet and smiling, but also about as finickety as it is possible for a chef to be… Bloomfield doesn’t bark orders; she makes suggestions… Naturally, I put her calm, kindly manner at the pass down to her gender.”

She’s also really picky in the kitchen, so describe her throwing something out.
New Yorker: “After a minute, she picked up a pair of tongs and turned over one of the livers. The underside was pale. Bloomfield grabbed the pan, marched over to a trash can, and silently emptied the pan’s contents.”
Guardian: “I could watch her clean whelks all day. At one point, dissatisfied with their taste - she is an enthusiastic rather than a merely dutiful taster - she tipped seven plated servings of scallops back in a basin and began seasoning them all over again.”

Mention that she dresses down — she’s a jeans-and-clogs girl
New York: “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.”
New Yorker: “She was dressed, as she usually is, in a black Pig T-shirt, black Dickies, and Birkenstock clogs. Her hair, the color of gingersnaps, was scraped into a bun.”
Guardian: “None of us is dressed for fine dining. April is in a parka, jeans and her beloved Birkenstock clogs.”

Mention how humble she is compared to all those macho fame-whore chefs.
New Yorker: “In a field of divos, Bloomfield is humble, praising her competitors and punctuating her correspondence with emoticons and ‘x’s and ‘o’s.”
Guardian: “April Bloomfield, a quiet, unassuming girl from Birmingham, had succeeded where the likes of Gordon Ramsay and countless other shouty, macho British chefs had always failed: she had taken Manhattan by storm.”

Point out that she originally wanted to be a policewoman, but followed her sisters into cooking instead.
New York:: “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.”
New Yorker: “When she was sixteen and it came time for her to choose a career, she decided to become a policewoman. After missing the deadline for the entrance exam, she followed her two older sisters, both cooks at the time (one now works in real estate; the other is a cook in a pub), and enrolled at Birmingham’s College of Food, Tourism, and Creative Studies.”
Guardian: “At 16, April decided to join the police force, a decision based mostly on her love of Cagney & Lacey. It was only when she realised she’d left it too late to apply to the cadet scheme that she changed her plan. Just as her mother was asking her what she planned to do with her life, in walked April’s sister, who was at catering college, in her chef’s whites.”

Mention her first cooking gig, at a Holiday Inn.
New Yorker: “Her first cooking job was in the roast section at the local Holiday Inn.”
Guardian: “Her first job was at a Holiday Inn in Birmingham.”

Tell how she loved her nan’s cooking.
New Yorker: “She loved her nan’s Brussels sprouts, boiled and coated in butter, and her granddad’s porridge, not too watery and not too thick.”
Guardian: “My nan’s cooking was my favourite: loin of pork with crackling and stuffing.”

Accompany her to a farm or farm stand, and introduce readers to her farm guy, Scott Boggs, or Boggins, depending on whether you use the American or English spelling, apparently.
New York: “At Berried Treasures, her favorite stand, she runs into one of her pigtailed foragers. There 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. 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.”
New Yorker: “The next afternoon, the group visited the land Boggs was farming, on twenty-five hundred acres in Napa. It was a hot day… Boggs opened the gate, and Bloomfield—wearing flip-flops, turned-up railroad pants, a black T-shirt, and aviator sunglasses—charged in. It was sweltering. The pigs stunk. Bloomfield stood in the middle of a cloud of dust. She could have been at a cocktail party.”
Guardian: “We are talking in the back of a car, on our way back from visiting a farm in the Catskills. One of the legacies of her time at the River Cafe is a reverence for ingredients, and April is convinced that, in the long term, the only way she can get her hands on the very best produce is to grow it herself… Driving the car is Scott Boggins, who was the ‘culinary farmer’ at the French Laundry in California, and now works for April full-time (he will manage the farm once they find the right place).”

Mention her most beloved ingredients, and depict her swooning rapturously over food.
New York: “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.”
New Yorker: “He mentioned that he was growing Little Gems, a delicate ridged lettuce that is popular in Britain but hard to find in New York. ‘Ooh, Little Gems!’ Bloomfield said, brightening. ‘Do they look sexy?’
Guardian: “Bloomfield is ‘obsessed’ with beans… April, though, treats every dish with the relish of a child opening an Easter egg. First, she examines it, pondering what tricks are involved in its composition. Then, she tastes it, very carefully. Finally, once she has its measure, she scoffs whatever is left. I wish I had a camera so I could photograph her delicately picking the cheeks from a cod’s head. “Isn’t this beautiful?” she says, over and over.”

Ask her how she feels about sexism in the industry and quote her saying she doesn’t really think about it.
New Yorker: “People love to ask Bloomfield what it feels like to be one of the few famous female chefs, but her choice of vocation was more a practicality than a political statement. ‘I don’t think of being a woman in an industry of men,’ she told me. ‘I didn’t walk into the kitchen and go, “Ooh, I’m a girl!” I didn’t get into my chosen profession. I wanted to be good at something.’”
The Guardian “Nor does she have a view on whether it is more difficult for women to succeed as chefs. “You just have to work hard; it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman. I didn’t come in to this thinking I was a woman in a man’s world.”

Describe her encountering someone from Blue Hill, and mention that it’s like watching “food aristocracy,” or “the pope visiting the archbishop of Canterbury.”
New York: “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.”
Guardian: “Obviously, we will be having the tasting menu, and no arguments. Dan Barber appears, and shakes her hand ecstatically. It’s as if the pope is visiting the archbishop of Canterbury, or something.”

Note to photographers: Photograph her with a pig (either dead or alive), or, in the case of the Guardian, with some lobsters for a change.

Grub Street’s Guide to Penning an April Bloomfield Profile