ANTHONY Bourdain once described the professional kitchen as a place infested with a “towel-snapping, locker-room attitude,” although he thinks that’s changed in recent years. Perhaps it has, but if the situation is improving, it’s largely down to female chefs making their voices heard.
Among their ranks is April Bloomfield, famously dubbed “Burger Queen” in a 2010 New Yorker profile that mapped the British chef’s influence on New York’s dining culture. Bloomfield, who won plaudits at gastropub the Spotted Pig and meat-lover haven the Breslin (both received Michelin stars) is now giving veg lovers something to celebrate with Hearth & Hound, her first LA venture.
One of the many chefs inspired by Bloomfield is Elise Kornack, who made waves with her own tiny Michelin-starred eatery, Take Root, in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens. Earlier this year, Kornack closed shop and relocated to the Hudson Valley, where expectations are running high that she will make the region the home of her second act.
Kornack and Bloomfield sat down with Kerry Diamond, co-founder and editorial director of Cherry Bombe, a biannual magazine that focuses on women and food. – Aaron Hicklin
EK: As someone younger in the industry, I want to give respect to people who came before me. I want advice. But I don’t want to make it seem like I’m saying, “Make this easier on me.”
AB: It’s OK to say that you’re having a hard time or that you don’t know how to deal with something. I don’t know that it necessarily comes with age. I’ve always been quite open and willing to act, especially if it’s a problem that you need to address. But I don’t think women are any lesser at doing that than men. Maybe women feel that they don’t get supported. Maybe we should be talking more, as women.
KD: I think the bigger issue is institutional sexism. The guys just have better infrastructure when it comes to asking for help. They’re part of a network. I went to an event two years ago, a type of lunch-and-learn, and it was all the heads of the big restaurant groups in the city. There were four women out of 75 people in the room. It was shocking, but it opened my eyes. We have to start penetrating that infrastructure if we want to have equal opportunity. It’s the lawyers, the accountants, access to the people with money. It’s starting to change, but it’s still a little slow going.
EK: I’ve moved out of the city and into a smaller community [in Woodstock, NY]. And it’s amazing how many women up there and in general are so eager to help each other get things off the ground.
KD: Do you feel like New York City wasn’t as supportive as upstate?
EK: People are a bit more organized in the country. There’s a lot going on in the city. When there’s not a lot going on, you can grab onto something faster and make a bigger impact. It’s like being a bigger fish in a small pond, and it takes a lot more to do it in a larger place. But you can start in a small community and grow from there.
AB: New York is a pretty busy place. I think it’s really important to gather and talk, that we have some agenda that is meaningful for everybody. I’m quite shy. I like to go to talks and I like to listen, but sometimes it takes me a while to process. It’s one thing to talk, but there’s the pressure of, “Well, I’m thinking …”
KD: That’s what I like about social media, that even if you’re shy, you can promote yourself. The self-promotion aspect of this industry is really hard for a lot of people. One of the things we need to be careful about is not just promoting people who can afford a publicist and people who’ve got a big machine. I think that I’ve come to a better understanding of what mentor means — someone who would reach out a hand and show you the way like Yoda. They were like the personal-goals mentor that would know how to get to the next level.
AB: Or you can have young people that teach you. I think there was once an idea that a chef was always in charge and that all ideas had to come from a chef, and I think in this day and age, it’s more open.
EK: I’ve always wanted to just lead by example, and then maybe I can inspire people through that.
KD: The [James Beard Award-winning] chef Jody Adams was on the radio saying something to the effect of, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” And I feel that it’s such a great moment for women in the industry because you have so many dynamic female chefs today, and for so long you didn’t see any women. That’s finally starting to change, and, April, I think you get some credit for that because so many women learned under you and now they’re opening their places and cooking elsewhere.
Photo by Victoria Will; April’s Hair & Makeup by Mary Guthrie at ABTP.com
Acclaimed British chef Bloomfield (of Spotted Pig and Breslin fame) reveals her favorite tools and treats.
PG Tips black tea: I like a good, strong English breakfast tea. Great for gradually waking up and for dipping biscuits.
Jacobsen sea salt: Flaky sea salt is great for seasoning food right at the last minute to maintain the clean, crunchy quality that comes from its harvest. I visited Ben Jacobsen at Netarts Bay in Oregon, and it was wonderful to see how they make a product that I love to use.
Westwind Orchard’s apple-cider vinegar: Vinegar is great for balancing salt and fat. My friend Fabio makes incredible apple-cider vinegar at his farm, Westwind Orchard.
Microplane: This little tool serves many purposes, but I especially love using it to get a nice fine grate on Parmesan to cover a grilled cheese sandwich.
Mortar and pestle: This one is perfect for getting your spices to blend together before seasoning. And it’s also a great upper-body workout!
Elise Kornack photographed at her Woodstock home. Photo by Michael Mundy.
Elise Kornack’s Kitchen Essentials:
Aged meat: Usually we have some piece of meat aging in the fridge, whether it be a local bird or a piece of beef sitting in there waiting for its day to be used. I usually get something like that a week out.
Ceramics: It’s beautiful — all of it was handmade for our restaurant, Take Root, by Felt+Fat. When we closed in the summer, we brought everything to the house.
Sweet treats: We always have really trashy ice cream bars, like the ones from a gas station. It’s usually a really gross processed thing. People are always shocked. The other day, a guest was over and saw a Chipwich, and they were like, “What the hell is this doing in here? You guys don’t eat like this?” We were like, “No, sometimes we do.”
Kornack loves to grill and keeps her upstate refrigerator stocked with aged meat (along with a few surprising indulgences).
Sourdough starter: I make a lot of fresh bread.
Fermented chili sauce: Any sort of hot sauce or fermented chili sauce — either homemade or the kind by Huy Fong Foods, Inc. I like to put hot sauce on most things I eat.
Chef Kerry Diamond at her home in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Taylor Jewell.
Kerry Diamond’s Kitchen Essentials:
Bubbly: I am one of those New York clichés in that I always have Champagne in my fridge.
Bee pollen: I read somewhere that bee pollen can help you ward off colds and allergies, and I swear since I starting putting it on yogurt almost every morning, I haven’t gotten any colds.
Beauty products: Which always annoys my chef boyfriend. I have all these facial sprays — my favorite is Caudalie — and they’re just so refreshing when you keep them in the fridge.
Cherry Bombe co-founder Kerry Diamond is always prepared to celebrate — with bottles of bubbly and small-batch jams.
Condiments: I am a sucker for artisanal condiments: Sir Kensington, Brooklyn Delhi, Basbaas sauce. I cook a lot of simple things — quinoa, roast veggies — and a sexy condiment always perks things up.
That’s my jam: I’m a bit of an indie jam addict! It’s a fun souvenir, especially from the West Coast. There’s Ayako & Family in Seattle, Sqirl in LA, June Taylor Jams in San Francisco. I don’t eat the jam as fast as I collect it, though! I need to host some tartine parties or something.
Moderated by Alyssa Shapiro