A Perfect Country Weekend With One of New York's Hottest Chefs
The only village where you might expect to see April Bloomfield is New York's Greenwich Village.
That's where the British-born chef co-owns a gastropub that is one of New York's hottest restaurants, the Spotted Pig. (I ran into Jay Z and Beyoncé in the private upstairs bar once. They left early because Kanye hadn't shown up.)
So what's April doing cooking bacon and eggs, making toast, and then sitting down for a natter over breakfast in a Georgian farmhouse deep in the Cornish countryside in the west of England? She jumps up from the table to make more coffee for everyone.
She's here because she wants the occasional break from the pressures of New York, where she owns five restaurants with her business partner Ken Friedman, and one in San Francisco, where she has opened Tosca.
Together with London chef Tom Adams of Pitt Cue, she has bought Coombeshead Farm, where they grow herbs and vegetables, keep chickens, work with farmers, and help raise animals to feed guests who fancy an escape.
Coombeshead is a beautiful retreat. Set in 68 acres of meadows and woodland, it traces its history to 1748. Tom's mum helped with the decor and furnishings, which are homely without being twee or dull. There are big sofas to collapse onto, and books to read. And if that's not enough to keep you interested, you can wander into the fine wine cellar and help yourself to a bottle (or two).
Tom has spent months renovating the place with friends and family. It's like the posh country house you would love to own. There are five bedrooms, and it's all so informal and relaxing, I never felt the need to lock my door (or even close it) when I went out. Rooms start at £110 ($142) and £50 for dinner.
Guests are welcome to hang out in the large kitchen and chat with the chef who is cooking. It's a shared meal—like the poshest of dinner parties—where all the guests sit at a large table and dine on whatever great produce is available that day. When I visited, the guests included a couple of young doctors, along with Tom's parents.
My first night there, the meal featured grilled octopus followed by pig's head, which was roasted and served with crispy skin. (April's books include A Girl and Her Pig.) The meal ended with cream cheese custard, jelly, and hazelnuts. There are also vegetarian options.
The slow pace suits April, who says she enjoys the contrast with the pressure in New York.
"As I have gotten older, I have changed my way of thinking about things and how I want my life to be going," Bloomfield, 42, says. "The farm stems from that, just wanting to be closer to the earth and closer to the animals that I'm cooking. I've been looking for a place to do this in upstate New York, and when Tom called and said he'd found this place, I flew over.
"My restaurants are fun, but there is a part of me that likes solitude and the country. I like contrasts, and I want to balance a bit more. I want to keep doing things that inspire me and push me and make me think, and this is one of those. It is a reflection of where my head is. But I don’t want to be in the country all the time, because it is great to be in the city."
She hasn't given up on finding a similar farm in New York.
Bloomfield plans to spend only a few weeks a year at Coombeshead, so there's no guarantee she will cook your home-made sausages and bacon with eggs from the chickens in the yard. (Though I have to say, the breakfast she cooked was fabulous, served with the most beautiful sourdough, whose smell from the oven filled the house.)
There's a fair chance Adams will be looking after you. He's a feted chef in London and will now be spending much of his time at Coombeshead, where you can also go foraging or help out on the farm if you don't want just to sit around.
"We do all our own butters, yogurts, curds, and then all our own hams and charcuterie, bread," he says. "We try and do everything from scratch. It is just a nice way of working."
Of course, you might not want to disappear to the countryside and spend £50 on a dinner when there is little choice of menu or of dining companions. But I loved it.
Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick, Cornwall, PL15 7QQ; +44-1566 782-009 or http://www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk/.