DICED has been sharing an interview from The Main Course, our school newsletter, between Editor Kiri Tannenbaum and The Spotted Pig Chef April Bloomfield about her restaurant and her new book, A Girl and Her Pig. Last week, we told you about April’s life in the kitchen and now we are sharing her thoughts on running a successful restaurant.
Even now that you have three restaurants, how are you able to be in the kitchen?
I try and be in the kitchen every day. Obviously, it’s hard because I’ve started to do a few more interviews for my book. I can’t obviously be in different ones at the same time, but I try and touch on them all at least once a day.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing chefs today?
Keeping on top of things, persevering and sourcing. Sourcing is really a challenge sometimes.
Do you have an in-house forager?
We used to, now my chefs have started to go to the market a little bit more.
What’s your number one priority in the kitchen?
I have many. To be professional all the time. To taste. That’s really important–it’s number one. To be clean, organized, efficient, and to communicate. All those are priorities. If you don’t have those, then it’s not a smooth machine. And treat the food well.
What is important for you when you are hiring your staff?
Firstly, that they know what we’re about. And to hire people that are like-minded. That’s why trails are so good, because you really get to see who they are and they get to see who you are as well. It’s less about the interview process; it’s more about the connection– whether they fit into your kitchen, whether the other people work well with them.
When you look back to when you were a young cook in England, what were the most important lessons you learned?
To work hard and stand behind what you’re doing and have integrity. Not wavering in that. Having standards. Never settle for anything less. Always try to be better. To better the food. Rose and Ruth had a great knack for eating something in Italy and then bringing it back and trying to make it better. Which made them very unique and refreshing because there weren’t a lot of people in England, or London, who had standards of that caliber. It’s really refreshing that two women who didn’t really have professional cooking could open a restaurant with so much passion and just great taste.
You’re one of the top female chefs, what struggles do think women in the industry may experience different than men?
I’d like to think they wouldn’t have any or they would be the same. I had my head down and I did the stuff that I wanted to do. I didn’t have anybody standing in my way. If I wanted to work a section, somehow I managed to do it and get on that section. I didn’t feel any restrictions. I had goals. I started on the cold appetizers and was always thinking, “Okay, I’m going to do this,” but I’m looking over there thinking, “I want to do hots now.” And then you’d be on hots and you’d master that and you’d work really hard and put in the hours and time and then you’d say, “Okay, I want to do sauté and grill.” I think the only thing I didn’t do was pastry because I didn’t want to get stuck there, so I didn’t really pay attention to that until I was cooking for at least seven years.
What advice would you give a young cook just starting out their career?
Be prepared to work hard. Be a sponge. Absorb as much information as you can. Ask a lot of questions. I think a lot of chefs, especially young chefs that come in now, don’t ask questions. They never ask, “Why are you doing that?” or, “Why did you use that?” or, “Why should it taste like this?” Just touch the food, taste the food, smell the food, get to know it, cook it in different styles. Eat out if you can afford it even if it’s somewhere in your price range. Try and buy some books even if they’re secondhand.
The burger was what put The Spotted Pig on the map. How much thought went into that one menu item?
When I opened The Pig I didn’t want to open just a regular gastropub that had become the norm in England, and I didn’t want to have the gastropub classics like penne pasta with tomato sauce. I wanted to make restaurant quality food to a high standard and have it be consistently tasty. I put dishes on the menu that I really like to cook and eat, and secretly had my fingers crossed hoping that people would like it and appreciate it as much as I do. But when I was making the menu, I did think, “Okay, it is America and they do like burgers,” so put the burger on with that in mind.
Do you think it’s important that a restaurant has a signature dish?
It’s nice to be able to go to a restaurant and have something because it’s your favorite and have it stay on as long as it’s seasonal. I did that burger because I could make it all year round. It’s nice to be able to get some choice but have some set things that you want to go back for and say, “I want to go eat the gnudi or the burger.”
Did you toil over the burger to get it just right?
When we were opening, everybody helped with everything. We all had input on the menu and we exchanged techniques, so it was a nice collaboration. To get a great, tasty burger, it was trying to get the blend right. It was constant communication with the butcher, Pat La Frieda. We came to a recipe that we both agreed on.
He’s going to be on television.
I know, I can’t wait to see it. It’s called Meat Men and they are two perfect guys for that.
Is television something you’re interested in?
I like to learn. That’s the thing about me. I like to learn about different things. I’ve done a little TV and it’s fun to do. I think if it helps keep my restaurants busy and successful, then I might contemplate doing something in the future, but nothing right now.