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Jamie Oliver Protegee Returns to Her U.K. Roots

'A Girl and Her Pig'
The original U.S. cover of April Bloomfield's "A Girl and Her Pig." The British-born chef is best known for her New York restaurant, the Spotted Pig. Source: Gerber PR via Bloomberg

April Bloomfield was working at the River Cafe when the TV chef Jamie Oliver recommended her to New York restaurateur Ken Friedman in 2003.

Born in Birmingham, England, Bloomfield moved to the U.S., where she opened the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and the John Dory, with Friedman, gaining kudos and a degree of celebrity for her gutsy cooking. Her focus is on maximum flavor with minimum fuss.

Bloomfield, 38, is back in London. She’s marking the U.K. publication of her book “A Girl and Her Pig,” featuring recipes from her New York restaurants, with a residence at St. John Chinatown, where she will be cooking tomorrow and Oct. 31. (St. John owner Fergus Henderson cooks with Bloomfield each year in New York.)

How did she feel about returning to the kitchen in the U.K.?

“I’m sure I’m going to be nervous, which is always a good thing,” Bloomfield said over breakfast at Quo Vadis, in Soho. “But it’s going to be fun sharing meals with some old friends.”

Friedman, who formerly worked in the music industry and is friends with stars such as Bono and Jay-Z, will be there. Oliver also has a booking, along with several London chefs, such as Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, who said he has two copies of the book.

The two-day residency (two lunches and two dinners) sold out in three hours. Bloomfield shook her head when told of this.

“It was reassuring to know that it sold out so fast,” she said. “I thought no one might come.” Her menu will feature pig’s-ear salad with bitter greens and lemon caper dressing; and Spotted Pig burger with Roquefort and shoestring fries.

Michelin Star

This sort of cooking isn’t for everyone. It’s gastropub rather than fine dining. You might be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about after a long wait for a table at the Spotted Pig. That venue’s Michelin star denotes a very good restaurant in its category, not a sublime dining experience.

Bloomfield started at restaurants such as Kensington Place and Bibendum. It was under the guidance of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at the River Cafe that she learned the simplicity of food. The book is dedicated to Gray, who died in 2010.

Bloomfield is known for her no-nonsense approach. A char-grilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo and thrice-cooked chips is among her best-known dishes. The U.S. cover for her book features a photo of her with a piglet over her shoulder.

She is also capable of subtlety: Her salads and vegetable dishes show a lightness of touch and the same originality as Bloomfield’s meatier creations.

Female Chefs

Did she think there was a difference of approach between male and female chefs?

“Women tend to cook from their souls more, whereas men are sometimes more analytical and cerebral,” she said. “But there are guys like Mario (Batali), who really cooks from his soul.”

What does Bloomfield make of the London restaurant scene and would she consider opening a restaurant in the city?

“I would love to come back and open somewhere: Ken and I talk about it all the time,” she said. “I don’t know if it would be like the Pig. We’re just not sure. I visit London all the time. It’s my second home. London is going through a boom now, with lots of new places opening.

“There has been a lot of influence from New York. Soho has a West Village feel, with an undercurrent of grittiness. I like that.”

“A Girl and Her Pig” is published by Ecco Press in the U.S. priced $30. It will be published by Canongate in the U.K. on Nov. 1 priced at 14.99 pounds. To buy the book in North America, click here.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on theater, John Mariani on wine and Jeremy Gerard on New York theater.

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