Review published on February 2, 2013. Reviewed by Julian Philpot
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
[product sku=”9780857867315″]Back in the days of three-day weeks and three-channel television, one of my favourite books was John Seymour’s “Complete Book of Self Sufficiency”. In one volume it described how to grow your own food, weave your own clothes, build a windmill – and slaughter a pig. Complete with diagrams of how to drain the blood from the body and how to cut up the carcass, it was either an inspiration – or a deterrent – to those seeking the 1970s version of “Escape to the Country”. So when I first picked up A Girl and her Pig to review, I was half hoping to find similar instructions about these earlier stages of the food chain. Alas, the pig of the title refers to April’s restaurant in New York, the Spotted Pig. And while there’s a recipe for Whole Suckling Pig, and one for Pig’s Ear Salad (made with real pig’s ears), the starting point is always that inanimate piece of meat from the butcher.
Born in Birmingham, April Bloomfield became a chef almost by accident, having missed her opportunity to join the Police Cadets. A discovered passion for catering, and a dedication to hard work and high standards, have put her among the top chefs in the US – both the Spotted Pig and the Breslin, her other restaurant, have a Michelin star. She has most definitely arrived, and the fact that her name doesn’t ring the same bells as Nigella Lawson or Yotam Ottolenghi is probably because she prefers the kitchen to the studio. This book may bring her deserved attention here in the UK.
Back in the day, if you had a copy of “The Cookery Year” you were considered sophisticated, and if you had Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course you were a bit pretentious. Now, many of us have a set of aspirational, heavyweight tomes with which to prop open the kitchen door. There’s something for everyone – often backed by one of many themed TV series – whether you’re into seafood, Mediterranean cuisine, healthy cooking, 30-minute meals, or two rather hairy gentlemen on motorbikes. So the question is: what makes this book different? With a glut of glossy cookbooks to choose from, will a cute title be enough to attract you to a relatively unknown author and chef? In terms of internet mentions, Jamie Oliver is over 100 times better known, so it’s an uphill task.
Stylistically, A Girl and her Pig is similar to many other cookbooks. Recipes are adorned with interesting asides, interrupted by double-page articles or photo-spreads. Some recipes are classics – liver and onions, Eton mess, and so on. Others are more individual, such as a beef and blue cheese pie. The recipes are clearly laid out, using metric measures and UK English names for the ingredients. So the book is aimed squarely at the British market – by a chef based in the US for the past ten years. The many references to her “mom” while growing up in Birmingham may grate a little, but it’s all part of the scene-setting prevalent in today’s recipe books.
There’s no dominant theme to A Girl and her Pig. The recipes are described as “quintessentially British food with a deeply Italian influence”, though the influence spreads around most of the Mediterranean. It’s really a selection of personal favourites, half-way between good home cooking and the high-end gastro-pub cuisine of Bloomfield’s restaurants. Expect strong flavours and hearty measures – blind tastings apparently identified her dishes by the salt and lemon content! Most of the recipes will take time, but it’s time well spent in meticulous preparation or long, slow cooking. They are, according to the cover, “perfectly achievable at home”, though only the more adventurous are likely to attempt Whole Lamb’s Head (brain in).
If you only want one cookbook, this isn’t it. The selection is limited because the recipes are written large, including notes and graphics. If you collect cookbooks, this one will hold its own against the rest, but you have to be a dedicated kitcheneer to make the most of it. The unique selling proposition is in the person of April Bloomfield herself, with her quirks and her robust approach to the hands-on, messy business of cooking. In that respect she’s close to Jamie Oliver, whose recommendation was instrumental in getting her that US job. Worth buying (or receiving as a present) if you want a collection of good recipes with this stamp of individuality.