Hot to trotter: April Bloomfield's latest American venture is an 'urban taco bar'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Almost 10 years ago, British-born Bloomfield opened the hugely popular Spotted Pig pub in NYC. Now she's taking a departure from the hearty-English-food-with-an-Italian accent that she's known for at her Michelin-starred restaurants.

At the start of her new cookbook, the aptly-named A Girl and Her Pig, April Bloomfield tells us about Druids Heath, the area of Birmingham where she grew up: "Everything there seems to be made of concrete," she writes. "It's also full of housing estates and massive high-rise flats. Quite a few of my family members have lived in housing estates at one point or another, when they were struggling to afford rent. These buildings were all scary and cold and quite grim."

It's at the top of another kind of high-rise building, in a different sort of concrete jungle, that I meet the British chef, who's spent the last 10 years taking NYC's competitive restaurant scene by storm. We're sitting on the sprawling roof terrace of the hip, newly opened Pod 39 Hotel in Murray Hill, Midtown, sipping cocktails.

Bloomfield, 38, is as warm, open and approachable as she was when I met her in her kitchen back in 2009: her hair pulled back into a ponytail, and dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans. We're meeting here because, aside from the fact that Bloomfield enjoys a drink, it's the location for her, and her business partner, the music mogul-turned-restaurateur Ken Friedman's latest project – what she calls an "urban taco bar". It's a departure from the hearty-English-food-with-an-Italian accent that she's known for at her Michelin-starred restaurants the Spotted Pig and The Breslin.

Brilliantly described by New York blog UrbanDaddy as the "Travelling Wilburys of Midtown gastro-imbibement", it's also a collaboration with an as-yet-unannounced local Mexican chef, who Friedman describes as "kind of a big shot in the Mexican food world" . On the way up to meet the pair, I glimpse the huge space where the new project is being built. "There's loads of room for ping-pong tables, and it's going to be a great place to hang out, have some cocktails and some simple, fast, good food," says Bloomfield.

While the food will be Mexican, it will be Mexican very much through a prism of Bloomfield's cooking style – so heavy on the meat, offal and punchy, bold flavours: "We'll have tacos with crispy pigs' ears and stuff. I love simple, delicious food and you can't get much more simple than a taco." She's particularly excited about plans for tacos al pastor: an Arabic-style taco made with shawarma-style, spit-cooked meat, topped with pineapple, lime and chilli sauce. Her version will be made with spiced pork belly and shoulder, because "you've got to get a bit of pig in there somewhere". After all, her deftness with the beast is a big part of what she's known for. She later takes great joy in recounting how, on the rare occasions that she gets recognised on the street, people will come up to her and say, "oh – you're the Spotted Pig".

It was with The Spotted Pig that Bloomfield made her Manhattan debut, famously giving New York its first proper gastropub, just under 10 years ago. She was a 27-year-old chef with form at Kensington Place with Rowley Leigh and with Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers at The River Cafe in Hammersmith, when Friedman, who was making his first foray into the restaurant world, lured her across the Atlantic to open the Pig with him and a host of celebrity backers that include Jay-Z and Norman Cook. It's convivial, pub-like atmosphere and Bloomfield's gutsy British cooking made it an unbridled success (people still queue around the block to get in), and two more restaurants – the Michelin-starred Breslin, and the seafood-centric John Dory Bar at the Ace Hotel – have followed.

Between them, Friedman and Bloomfield now have a staff of more than 300 working for them, and Friedman – whose fondness and genuine respect for his partner are apparent when he talks about her – is clear that Bloomfield was destined for chef superstardom. "She was just kind of a bad ass," he says about their first meeting. "She knew exactly what she wanted to do and what she wanted to cook. She wasn't just great head-chef material, she was partner material. She's a really good partner, because she doesn't settle for anything less." He addresses Bloomfield. "You're so disciplined as a chef, but then you're also always trying to move forward." Bloomfield cuts in, laughing: "You make me sound like Yoda."

The sci-fi references don't stop there. When I ask her about where her obsession for swine comes from, the chef speaks of her grandmother's epic Sunday lunches. "My nan used to cook pork loin with fantastic crackling: you could smell it throughout the house. She used to make so much food you couldn't see one end of the table. Have you seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where he makes the mash potato mountain? That's what it was like."

Despite her accent's inevitable transatlantic lilt, staying true to her origins is important, and she concedes that her cooking has become increasingly English over the years. "I've probably swayed more towards my English roots, whereas if I'd have stayed in London I'd have gone more towards Italian. But it's still in the vein of solid Italian food: it's very simple, made with fewer ingredients – but it's about layering the flavours, which is very Italian – to have different textures, and then the long cooking, the complexity that brings."

The impact of working with Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers at The River Cafe on her was also huge. "I was so deeply influenced by them, their vision. Their palate was very different – they weren't classically trained, but were just very instinctive – and they had that kind of physical connection with food – rather than mental. I think a lot of people cook with their minds, instead of their instincts."

While she respects the cerebral approaches of places such as Noma, or Faviken: "I just want to make food that's going to make you feel good. It should be exciting and just so delicious that you really want to sink your teeth into it and lick the plate. Some of this modern stuff is very intellectual. Not to dumb down what I do, but I think of mine as comforting and soulful, and that's who I am as a chef."

This week she returned to London for her sell-out, two-night residency at Fergus Henderson's St John Chinatown, and it was an exciting prospect for Bloomfield, who admits she misses her friends, English pubs and Soho. "London is amazing," she says. "It's coming into its own. There are lots of small, minimal places opening – it's getting quite New York in its feel and that's very exciting to see. You couldn't even get a good hamburger in London in the 1990s. The only place to get one was the Hard Rock and Bill Wyman's restaurant."

Was her appearance a chance to scope out London for a project? Friedman tells me he thinks they'll open in London in the next 18 months, and Bloomfield says she'd "like to spend some time in London setting it up and making sure it's the way I'd want it. I'm kind of particular – I'm a bit of a control freak, so it's nice to be hands on. I'd probably just fly back and forth." A jet-setting chef then, with restaurants potentially both side of the Atlantic; a cookbook under her belt; and celebrity fans that include Sarah Jessica Parker: it's all a very long way from the Birmingham high-rises.

"A Girl and her Pig" (Canongate Books, £25) is out now

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing