(Part of a weekly series by a group of bloggers, featuring Gourmet Live’s 50 Women Game Changers in Food - see end of post for list of bloggers participating & their blogs)
April Bloomfield, at #41 of Gourmet Live’s 50 Women Game Changers in Food, is synonymous with New York’s ‘Gastropub’ culture. For April, it’s always been about the food. You cannot mess around with the food when you’re eating at any of her restaurants. Literally. She won’t entertain any changes to dishes you request – it’s her way or the highway! Her business partner, Ken Friedman, is believed to store condiments in a special shelf for guests who ask for things like mayo with their burgers. Hey, when you’re a famous chef who’s earned her chops, you get to dictate how your food goes down. And it’s working… because she has TWO Michelin stars under her chef’s hat, one for The Spotted Pig and the other for The Breslin, two of the three restaurants she owns with Friedman.
April was born in Birmingham to a middle-class family with no roots whatsoever in the culinary world. Her mother made steaks that were ‘gray’ and not something you fondly remember. She fell in love with her granny’s cooking though, when she spent a year with her grandparents. April wanted to join the police force, but after she missed the application deadline, she was forced to consider other options. One of her sisters was already enrolled in culinary school and that inspired April to follow. Once she started school at the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies, she took a great liking to the art and thus began her passion and journey to the top.
After culinary school, she honed her skills further working at Kensington Place, Bibendum and The Brackenbury, eventually securing a spot at the River Cafe. That’s where she caught the eye of Jaime Oliver, who urged Mario Batali to check her out during one of his visits here. Batali was sold the first time they met and was impressed with her battle scars in the kitchen. He could see her passion and is supposed to have said this of her, “She’s a star. I can tell.” That’s a pretty massive compliment for someone. He offered her a job and April packed her bags and flew over to America. She spent the summer working at Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, before moving on to eventually set up her own restaurants with Friedman. There are some lovely stories on her life that you can read at The Guardian and The New Yorker. Mind you, they are a bit long, though.
I picked a couple of recipes from her repertoire and made 3 of them before picking the Parmesan Beignets to feature. While the other two tasted amazing, I couldn’t help but feel I bungled up somewhere because I stepped in a few times with my own adjustments since things weren’t going as planned as the recipe progressed. Clumsy Beetle strikes again. Hah!
These beignets, though, are indescribably cheesy! Not in the bad way, but, really in the cheese-cheese way. It’s like eating balls of soft, melty cheese that make you close your eyes and go, MMMmmmmmm. This recipe is also one of those highly customizable ones since you can throw in whichever cheese takes your fancy and can also add any other flavors you’d like. My mind was already whirling with ideas as I chomped on the cheesy bliss-inducing beignets. You should definitely try them. They’re easier to make than boiling water!
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups finely grated Gruyere/Fontina/any other cheese that takes your fancy
- 1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 large eggs
- Coarse salt
- Vegetable oil, for frying
In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring 1 cup water and butter just to a boil. Whisk in flour and stir with a spatula to blend completely. Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add cheeses and mix on high speed until well combined. With mixer on low, add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition; season with salt. Transfer batter to refrigerator and let chill for 30 minutes.
Drop tablespoon-size balls of batter about 1-inch apart onto 12-by-2-inch pieces of parchment paper; refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days. Beignets may also be frozen for up to 1 month.
Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot 4 inches high with oil. Heat oil until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, carefully place entire piece of parchment into hot oil. Using tongs, carefully remove parchment from oil and discard. Fry beignets until golden and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.
If the parchment paper method is too confusing or cumbersome for you guys, you can just roll 1 inch balls with the batter, using your hands. When you’re ready to fry, take a large slotted spoon and place 4 or 5 of the balls on it. Immerse the spoon in the oil and slowly let the balls slide off to fry.