By Bill Telepan, Director of Sustainability

In this interview, ICE’s Director of Sustainability Bill Telepan speaks with Chef April Bloomfield, the British-born, NYC-based chef behind The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John Dory Oyster Bar. Bill and April talk about Coombeshead Farm, the farm in the heart of Cornwall, England that April owns and runs with Chef Tom Adams, chef-owner of the London restaurant, Pitt Cue. Don’t let the name mislead you — Coombeshead is more ecosystem than farm, or more precisely, a farm, guesthouse, restaurant and bakery that runs largely off the fat of the land, and animals raised on that land. Bill and April chat about her first brush with farming, the benefits of producing your own food and the importance of getting dirty sometimes.

Chefs Tom Adams and April Bloomfield

Chefs Tom Adams and April Bloomfield (photo courtesy of Coombeshead Farm)

Bill: Your food is so inspired by the seasons. When you came up with The Spotted Pig, what amazed me was how there were great ingredients in a casual setting and it felt so easy. I understand it was not easy, but it felt that way. I wanted to first ask you about growing up — did you have any experience with farming? What was food like at your home?

April: To be honest, we did get some stuff from farm stands, but mostly only when we were on holiday — we’d go pick peas and eat them raw while hiking. My mom used some fresh vegetables but as she got older and we got a bit more teenager-y, she wanted to cook things faster and more simply. So we did go through a phase of having a ton of frozen vegetables. I didn’t come from an affluent family. I came from a very humble, modest family, so it was based on price too.

My first experience with a farm was when I went to a farm in Devon, England called Nethercott Farm. It was basically a farm that was able to put up eight to 12-year-olds for a weeklong visit. It was children from the inner city who wouldn’t necessarily get to experience the countryside. I spent a week there and I remember it very fondly. I got to muck out cows and walk in the fields and feed the chickens and groom the horses. It felt very good and very healthy and hearty — to eat eggs and bacon and good products that were made on this farm.

Bill: That must have been a great experience as a kid.

April: That was my first experience with farms. My mom would take us strawberry picking, too. She would teach us to grab a strawberry, make sure there were no holes in it and give it a little squish. Sometimes my mom would grow spring onions and a few tomatoes and we’d have salads and sandwiches in the summer. It was very simple stuff, really.

Bill: Tell me about the farm you have today. 

April: A couple of years ago I met this great guy named Tom Adams. He was a young chef and he had his own restaurant called Pitt Cue in London and I was there for my book tour — I went back to England for a wee while, and we just hit it off. We stayed in touch for the next four years. We’d meet for a drink and talk about our lives and what our aspirations were. He really wanted to come and live in Cornwall. He was already producing Mangalitsa pigs for his restaurant. He was super focused and super honed in on products, as was I. I had been dreaming about having a farm. I had told him I was looking for a farm upstate and I couldn’t find anything. One day he called me and said he found a farm and asked if I’d like to come see it. I took a flight to meet him and we took the train and drove to see the farm. It was a pretty magical place.

I think the ultimate goal for having the farm was to be in control of the product — to dial in the things we like about each type of product. It’s the attention to detail — the flavors and the textures. There’s nothing better than grabbing a beet from the ground, gently washing it and throwing it straight in the oven. That beet’s at its peak. As chefs we’re always looking for that. We’re always looking for the best quality product. It’s what drives me for sure. I know it’s what drives Tom. When we don’t get product like that it’s depressing — it’s a bit soul crushing.

Bill: What were some of the highlights this year?

April: Definitely all of the fava beans. It’s great to plant a fava bean and be able to pick them in a couple months. Being able to walk out to the garden and pick herbs and leaves before service and not mask them too much and let them shine — that’s the highlight. You also get to be in the open. You’re out there with the wildlife, the birds and the bees. Sometimes it’s just pissing down with rain too. It’s not all butterflies and rabbits. The harvesting and tasting, and figuring out what you’re doing to do with the product is exciting.

Bill: How do you decide what you’re going to grow?

April: We’re still trying to experiment. We’ve planted corn this year that we didn’t plan last year. It was just a small amount, but it’s trial and error. I really loved it and want to grow corn again next year. I’m sure there will be many things that we’ll want to try — that’s the fun part.

Bill: Are you also doing livestock?

April: Yes, we have a couple of pigs that just went to slaughter. I wasn’t there unfortunately but Tom did this amazing pig slaughter with a bunch of chefs. He had two Mangalitsa that he slaughtered and he’s going to make charcuterie from them and fresh sausage for breakfast. We have a few sheep that are grazing. They’re not ours per se: we’re renting them and letting them graze on our land, so they cut the grass. They’re like nature’s lawnmowers.

Natures lawn mowers @coombesheadfarm

A post shared by aprilbloomfield (@aprilbloomfield) on

Bill: Obviously you have a passion for the connection to the earth. Can you teach someone to have that passion or does it only come through experience and exposure?

April: I think a lot of my learning came from my experience at the farm and getting dirty and feeling connected to the land. When I was 12 and went to [Nethercott Farm], it was a gentle way of learning. I still remember the things they taught us about looking after the countryside. I didn’t quite realize that was something I was drawn to until seven or eight years ago, even though I had already been buying from farmers’ markets for many years. I worked at Chez Panisse and we got lots of stuff from farmers who would deliver. Sometimes we’d go see the farm and meet the farmer. I remember meeting Bob Canard who supplied Chez Panisse — that was a very moving experience for me, him talking about the soil and how he tended to the soil and how he nurtured it and what he put in to make it great. He made me cry. That’s pretty amazing when you can move people like that. It was done in the gentlest way and I think when you do it like that, it’s more effective.

Bill: With ICE’s hydroponic garden, we want students to be able to plant something and watch it grow and harvest. Why do you think students should learn about farming, if it’s available to them?

April: It’s exciting for kids to be able to do something from start to finish and to see the progression. Even sprouting seeds — how amazing is it if they can sprout some seeds, like grains and lentils, and actually see them grow? And then you get to eat them. When I was young, I think I must have been in junior school, we sprinkled cress seeds on cotton wall and we watched the cress seeds grow. That’s super exciting. Kids are like sponges. They’re inquisitive and they ask questions. I think it’s a great age to capture their imagination. Even if it takes another 10 years for them to realize what they want to do, you’ve planted that seed early. Even me, it’s taken this long for me to realize that this is something I really want to do, and this is how I want to live my life. I’m older now and that seed was planted when I was 12. It takes time to nurture it.

Interested in culinary training with an eye toward sustainability? Learn more about ICE’s career training programs.

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

December 2016

November 2016

October 2016

September 2016

August 2016

July 2016

June 2016

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016

December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

June 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

January 2015

December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012

June 2012

May 2012

April 2012

March 2012

February 2012

January 2012

December 2011

November 2011

October 2011

September 2011

August 2011

July 2011

June 2011

May 2011

April 2011

March 2011

February 2011

January 2011

December 2010

November 2010

October 2010

September 2010

August 2010

July 2010

June 2010

May 2010

April 2010

March 2010

February 2010

January 2010

December 2009

November 2009

October 2009

By Bill Telepan — Director of Sustainability

As the world’s population continues to grow, urban, hydroponic farming seems an increasingly viable option for feeding the world well and nutritiously. With just light, water and few other little factors, you can grow a tremendous amount of food indoors vertically — meaning growing crops upward, rather than in the ground, which exponentially increases the available surface area for planting.

Providing nutritious food is important to me; not just for me personally, but also with respect to a program I work with called Wellness in the Schools, an organization dedicated to exposing school children to nutritious, better quality food. Some of our schools have “tower gardens,” which are 6- to 8-foot structures that we use as indoor teaching gardens. It makes sense to start teaching our future chefs about hydroponic farming, too — which is what we’re doing at ICE.

Bill Telepan hydroponic garden

When I was approached by the team at ICE about the opportunity to become the school’s Director of Sustainability, I was intrigued by the challenge of helping to bridge their hydroponic farm to the classroom. The school has an amazing indoor garden right in their facility. Culinary and pastry students have the ability to plant, grow and harvest food that they will cook and bake with in their class lessons. There are many reasons why this is a great learning opportunity for students.

The school can grow many varieties of one type of herb and students can go into the garden, harvest those herbs and taste the difference for themselves right then and there. This exercise develops students’ palates and teaches them how to explore and utilize a range of ingredients when creating a dish. The farm has grown an incredible 200-plus varieties of herbs and produce to date — exposure to so many new flavor profiles can help these future chefs to start thinking about taste, flavor pairing and being creative in the kitchen. Plus, they learn how to grow and harvest their own herbs and produce onsite — it doesn’t get more local and sustainable than that.

hydroponic garden at ICE

During my first session in the farm with the farm manager, David Goldstein, I spent the entire time learning about what has been grown before, what grows well and how fast things can grow in this environment. And he had me taste…and taste…and taste! It was quite a revelation. I tasted flowers that were sweet. I saw whole fennel plants, from bulb to foliage to seeds. I tasted kale in different stages of growth and noticed how the flavor developed at each stage. David also had me try lemon marigolds; I never thought about tasting the tiny leaves of this miniature variety. Tasting them for the first time, my mind immediately started thinking about what to pair them with (and hoping David would grow some for me for a dish at Oceana, where I am executive chef). I want the students to have these kinds of revelations that come from experience in the kitchen and exposure to flavors like the ones that ICE’s hydroponic farm provides.

hydroponic garden at ICE

The farm is a great asset for the instructors and the students. Yes, we need to teach culinary students technique. But we also want them to think creatively about cooking and flavors once they master the technique and are out in the field. I hope they’ll remember their time “on the farm,” tasting and learning about flavors and the endless possibilities of the plate.

Interested in studying at ICE? Learn more about ICE’s career programs.

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

December 2016

November 2016

October 2016

September 2016

August 2016

July 2016

June 2016

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016

December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

June 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

January 2015

December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012

June 2012

May 2012

April 2012

March 2012

February 2012

January 2012

December 2011

November 2011

October 2011

September 2011

August 2011

July 2011

June 2011

May 2011

April 2011

March 2011

February 2011

January 2011

December 2010

November 2010

October 2010

September 2010

August 2010

July 2010

June 2010

May 2010

April 2010

March 2010

February 2010

January 2010

December 2009

November 2009

October 2009