"Most people know me for loving everything porcine," says April Bloomfield, the chef behind New York's Spotted Pig, The Breslin, Salvation Taco, and The John Dory Oyster Bar, as well as San Francisco's Tosca. But the truth, says Bloomfield, whose resume includes stints at London's River Cafe and Berkeley's Chez Panisse, "is that I also love to cook and eat vegetables of all kinds. I wanted to write a book to show this different side of myself. I want people to know that cooking vegetables can not only be delicious, but fun and exciting as well." Thus, the soon-to-be-released A Girl and Her Greens, which gives us the keys to salad sandwiches, carrots with carrot-top pesto, broccoli raab-swirled morning buns, and more.
Bloomfield says she owns "too many cookbooks to count," so I asked her a bit about which cookbooks she considers essential, and which cooks she looks to for inspiration.
What makes a great cookbook? A great cookbook for me is one that has amazing, simple, and easy to read recipes but good storytelling as well. Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray, and Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson are two perfect examples of that. They aren't just recipes but they put you in a time and place with the story. Cookbooks for me are as much about learning about recipes and food, but also about the inspiration behind them.
Who is your greatest cooking hero, your cooking inspiration? I have many. Marcella Hazan; Madhur Jaffrey (I grew up watching her on TV and I love Indian food); Rose Gray, my mentor who has passed away, and Ruthie Rogers who I worked for at River Cafe; Simon Hopkinson, who I have also worked with (he has a great presence in the kitchen and is a passionate hard worker); and of course Fergus Henderson. Each one of these people have impacted and inspired me in different ways that will stay with me throughout my career.
What lesser-known cookbooks do you think deserve more love?
Delia Smith's cookbooks. She has a lot of how-to books and a lot of holiday books full of straightforward recipes that work. She has kind of this no-nonsense way about her that I love. I find them to be very useful and I think they should be more well known in the States.
What three cookbooks should every cook own? Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking. This book gets to the basic level of cooking and how everything works scientifically. As a cook, you always want to understand what is going on with your food, and this book gives you that information. Harold McGee is brilliant, and this book also talks about the history of food and their cultural impact on our lives. I love that he organizes the book by ingredients, you can spend days on eggs alone!
Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything. I love this book as a great, standard reference book for anything you might need. It is simple and to the point. A staple of any cook's collection.
Finally, the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, because it is stunning! Every picture makes you start to drool a little bit. This book shows a great range of American and French pastries done to perfection.
What books do you love for vegetable-cooking inspiration?
The River Cafe Cook Book Green, because it is simple, but has delicious, hearty recipes.
What about are your favorite meat-focused cookbooks? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books, specifically the River Cottage Meat Book. I love how the book is organized—he really touches on so many aspects regarding meat. He covers everything from the ideas behind sustainable meat production to storage, leftovers, and of course cooking techniques.
I also love Pork and Sons by Stephane Reynaud. I love this one for its authenticity. The recipes come from an old French family of pig butchers, and I just get a really great feeling when I read it.
Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman. This book is great to expose the home cook to some meat-curing techniques. Charcuterie and curing meat is one of the oldest forms of cookery that there is, and this book beautifully shows that history.
What cookbooks do you recommend for beginner cooks? The Time Life books are very good and really go into the basics. America's Test Kitchen has other great options for beginners. Their books are full of very easy-to-read and follow recipes that are tested and true, with a lot of tips and pointers for the perhaps more intimidated beginner cook.