April Bloomfield and JJ Goode discuss 'A Girl and Her Pig'

Food + Cooks + Books at the Food Book Fair

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, April Bloomfield and JJ Goode took to the stage to discuss their book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories. Their appearance was a part of the Food Book Fair, an event celebrating food, writing, reading, and activism. Their panel, Food + Cooks + Books, was moderated by Emilie Baltz and focused on the shift from chef as a profession to today's chef as an artist, writer, and celebrity. How do chefs manage their professional cooking careers and their writing careers and what is the role of the "collaborator" or "ghost writer"?

April Bloomfield is the chef behind three of New York's most successful and popular restaurants: The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory. At age 16, in her native Birmingham, U.K., she had decided to become a police officer. But, as fate would have it, she missed the application deadline. Needing a job, she passed up her mother's suggestion to become a florist and decided to try her hand at cooking, like her sisters. The rest is history.

With the success of The Spotted Pig, she started getting offers to do a cookbook, but the timing was never right. Then, David Halpern of Ecco Books approached her and everything fell into place. As she started her search for a collaborator she read an article by JJ Goode in Gourmet in which he discussed his efforts at cooking with one hand (Mr. Goode was born with a deformity of his right arm). "I loved his sense of humor," she said. "He was funny and didn't take him self seriously. I knew he was the right person."

With the recent dust up about cookbook "ghost writers" stemming from Julia Moskin's article in The New York Times, Ms. Bloomfield and Mr. Goode's obvious affinity for each other was welcome. Ms Bloomfield is a reluctant interview and speaker, stemming from her working class roots and disbelief that she is an interesting subject. She is lovely and charming in person, but it is clear she has a hard time discussing herself.

Mr. Goode is a natural and witty speaker. He clearly has great affection for Ms. Bloomfield and the year they have spent together, working on the cookbook, has made him the perfect mouthpiece for her. Together, they discussed their working relationship and the the year that resulted in A Girl and Her Pig. Below are a few excerpts:

On their roles in the collaboration:

JJ Goode: She has spent years standing in front of stoves and burners. She is the chef. She knows how to make the food. I have spent years hunched over in front of a computer. I am a writer and editor. I know how to translate her work and get it into book form. I cannot imagine ever making a suggestion to her on her cooking.

On their first day working together:

Goode: I had my computer open and ready to go. Suddenly she got up and walked away. I thought "Oh no, not another chef who doesn't appreciate my time and effort." Then she comes back with a little squeegee and starts to scrub down my computer. "JJ, your computer is filthy," she said.

April Bloomfield: JJ is neurotic and I am a bit OCD so it is a great combination.

On the collaborative process:

Goode: I made her measure and weigh everything. She didn't have recipes. She cooks by instinct and feel. I told her we had to have measurements for the home cook. They can't just touch a chicken and know it is done. But there were a few places I had to compromise. I asked her how much basil was in a dish. She looked and me and said, "You are not crushing my beautiful basil into a little measuring spoon." For another recipe we agreed the amount of olive oil required was a "glug."

Bloomfield: I now constantly write things down and write recipes. It makes it much easier to explain to chefs and staff how to cook the dishes.

On Goode being credited on the cover:

Bloomfield: When he asked me if he could be on the cover I said yes, of course. This is our book. He was as much a part of this as I was.

On the vision for the cookbook:

Bloomfield: My favorite cookbooks have always been the ones that take you on a journey, that tell a story. I love cookbooks. I go to bed with cookbooks. I love reading them. So I knew I wanted mine to be personal, with stories.

On what went into the cookbook:

Goode: There are certain things that just didn't work. There is a dish where she fillets anchovies. It takes her like four seconds to do. But it took me two pages to explain it. Nobody wants to read two pages on how to fillet an anchovy.

On Bloomfield as a chef:

Goode: I was sitting in her kitchen as she was making meatballs. She had made about 100 meatballs, trying to perfect them. She handed some to me and I started eating them. My eyes widened and my mind exploded. They were fantastic. I looked at her and she had her head in her hands. "Horrible," she said. "They are horrible." This is April. She is a great chef because she never thinks he food is good enough. She is always trying for something better.

After the panel I had a chance to sit with Bloomfield and ask her a few questions:

The Daily Meal: We are at the inaugural Food Book Fair, which speaks to the popularity of food writing today. Do you feel we are at the point that a successful chef is expected to write a cookbook?

April Bloomfield: I don't think it is expected, but I think it is a really good way to help promote your restaurant. It is a really nice business card.

TDM: After the success of The Spotted Pig and then The Breslin and The John Dory, did you feel any external pressure to write a book?

AB: No. It was very personal. It was something I always wanted to do. That is why it is very personal and not restaurant related.

TDM: Has the book been successful in raising your profile?

AB: I think it has definitely added to my profile, hopefully in a positive way. But, I really think it helps keep the restaurants in somebody's mind. And hopefully it will make them intrigued enough to make the trip to one of the restaurants.

TDM: There has been a lot of discussion about the cover of the book.

AB: Yes, there has been a lot of good controversy about the cover.

TDM: I want to ask you about the cover and your restaurants. I was going to ask you about the masculine feel of them. But during the panel today, you said you felt the cover was "strong but feminine." I realized I was interpreting "strong" as "masculine." My own prejudice. What is feminine about the cover for you?

AB: I think saying "masculine," in a way, is not quite me. The use of the word "strong" is more what I am about. I am not so feminine in my style. I think I have some masculine tones, so I think that is what I was trying to say. I think the cover is slightly strong yet feminine at the same time. It also translates to the food in the book. My food is quite punchy and quite vibrant and bright. It is not so subtle and dainty.

TDM: Right. Especially The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. They are very meat centric. And I guess when I think of big cuts of meat and grills I think of, say, the Joe Beef guys. Very masculine.

AB: That is 100 percent masculine, kind of strong, whereas I feel like I have a nice balance between the two sides and that's why when I saw this photograph Martin Schoeller took, I kind of instantly thought it would be a great cover because it had those tones, too.  

More coverage and interviews on the Food Book Fair here. 

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