In 2004, a quiet English woman named April Bloomfield set the Manhattan dining intelligentsia buzzing with her meat-centric comfort food and simple, ingredient-focused preparations that elevated familiar dishes.
It was almost retro, but supremely satisfying, and the Spotted Pig, New York's first "gastropub," became one of the hardest tables in town, unless you were Jay-Z.
The New York Times' Sam Sifton praised her squid, stuffed with chorizo and rice, as one of the best dishes in the city. Bloomfield had been recruited from London's River Cafe, whose farm-to-table focus has had a celebrated effect on a generation of English cooks, rather like Alice Waters' Chez Panisse influenced a wave of Americans.
Bloomfield won a Michelin star for the Spotted Pig with huge ribeye steaks, impeccable Scotch eggs and smoked haddock chowder, and has opened two more restaurants, the Breslin and the John Dory Oyster House.
In the intervening years, she introduced New Yorkers to chopped chicken livers without schmaltz, and fried pig's ear salad, part of her snout-to-tail approach that echoes the philosophy of London restaurant luminary Fergus Henderson, a friend and inspiration. "A Girl and Her Pig" is more than a collection of those recipes, as Bloomfield offers the savory backstory to many dishes, and in doing so, reveals bits of herself.
Bloomfield's cooking seeks to highlight the simple beauty of ingredients, not transform them or drape them with elegant ornaments.
Her recipe for "Roasted Veg," which some cooks would describe in three sentences, is six long paragraphs. "Turn your pan every now and then if you feel that one spot's not getting hot, and peek underneath the vegetables to make sure things are looking happy," Bloomfield writes. "As they brown, you'll smell the sweetness as the heat brings out the vegetables' sugars."
Here's a recipe for a whole suckling pig, and another for braised lamb shoulder with tomato and anchovy, and North African flavored lamb meatballs with yogurt, eggs and mint. She extols the pleasures of the whole roasted lamb's head: "It's such a treat discovering all the different textures in the head: some bits creamy and sticky, others tender with a nice chew, the custardy brain, the meaty deposit behind the eye."
She doesn't stint on the offal odds and ends, either, in a section she has solicitously titled "The Not-So-Nasty Bits," with her calf's liver, veal kidneys and sweetbreads.
In a time when ambitious cooks are turning to the bounty of local fields and farms, April Bloomfield's style and grace, reflected in "A Girl and Her Pig," have the potential to launch another British invasion.
A Girl and Her Pig
By April Bloomfield
335 pages, $29.99