The second you taste the fried chicken, you’ll understand the hype surrounding chef April Bloomfield.
Crisp and tender, it is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.
Bloomfield learned to make it while working with chef Chris Lee at the celebrated California restaurant Chez Panisse. “They only make it once a year on a Monday and I had the privilege to be there on that particular day it was being made,” she says. “I don’t detour from what I learned. I change up the sides often, but the process, not at all.”
This chicken is one of several spectacular dishes Bloomfield is making in the quiet Litchfield Hills as the chef-in-residence at the Mayflower Inn & Spa.
Born in England, Bloomfield is, in the words of national food-blog network Eater, “a defining chef of her generation.” After making a name for herself in England, she moved to the U.S. as a young chef and gained national acclaim for her New York City restaurants The Spotted Pig and The Breslin. The Spotted Pig, now closed, was the first gastropub in New York City and one of the first in the country when it opened in 2004. Both restaurants earned Michelin stars and Bloomfield won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in 2014. Though she earned the title of celebrity chef first and foremost for her work in the kitchen, she’s no stranger to TV. She achieved the highest score in the history of the show Iron Chef and earned an Emmy nomination for her work on The Mind of a Chef.
Her restaurants, meanwhile, helped inspire a new era of gastropub cuisine. Across Connecticut, many restaurants have been inspired directly or indirectly by Bloomfield’s culinary creations.
Since September, Bloomfield has been making amazing food at the new Garden Room and Tap Room at the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington. Bloomfield’s tenure at the Mayflower Inn was originally announced as temporary, but she plans on remaining on-site throughout 2021. On a recent trip on a cold November evening, we dive into dishes from both The Garden Room and Tap Room menus that more than live up to the high expectations set by visits to The Spotted Pig and The Breslin.
A smoked haddock chowder is, like the fried chicken, the best example of this dish I’ve ever had, a showstopper thanks to a deep, smoky flavor that pervades its creaminess. “Keeping with the pub theme, I decided to put a chowder on that I’ve been in love with for many years,” Bloomfield says. “I’ve been making it since I was 20. An oldie but a goodie. It’s one thing I never get bored with. Smoky, sweet, deep and creamy with a splash of lemon to brighten up at the end. It’s perfect right now with the chilly weather we are getting in Connecticut.”
The burgers Bloomfield developed at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin were and still are famous, and the tap room burger here, crowned with a thick onion ring, is a similar and equally appealing offering.
“I love a good, simple burger,” Bloomfield says. “I’m constantly coming up with different adaptations and this one felt quite fitting. It’s hearty and textured. The onion rings really pull it together. It adds to the beef instead of taking away.”
The beef is a custom blend from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, based out of New York and New Jersey, and the buns are from Wave Hill Breads in Norwalk, which she says has “been so good working with us on getting our perfect buns for our burgers.”
The black bass, hamachi crudo and bread-and-butter pickles with whipped butter toast are all just as excellent. As are the two desserts we sample: a pear and almond tart and chocolate mousse. Each is rich and savory and leaves us not just impressed but wowed.
Bloomfield says she fell in love with this quiet, out-of-the-way section of Connecticut. “I’ve been drawn to the country ever since I was little,” she says. “I’m naturally drawn to local farms whenever I’m in the country and I look forward to getting to know more when spring comes around. As soon as I stepped foot on the property at the Mayflower, I knew it was the ideal spot for me and my cooking.”
She hasn’t yet had time to explore much of the Connecticut dining scene, but she has been impressed with food providers in the area. “I adore the many local farms and purveyors and love to explore the local farmers markets for new products and farms,” she says. “I particularly love the incredible dairy and cheese from Arethusa Farm in nearby Bantam and the microgreens and edible flowers from Stella Rose Farm in Litchfield, among many others.”
Though she is excited about the food she is making, Bloomfield acknowledges that it is a hard time for restaurants and those who work at them.
“It’s been so incredibly difficult for so many, but the hospitality industry has always been resilient and creative, you can see how we’ve had to adapt,” she says. “It’s not just about food or making money, as we all know the margins for making money in this industry are slim. For a lot of chefs and restaurateurs it’s about connection to the people, the relationships to our communities and our network of purveyors and being of service. We are the first to help when people are hungry or something tragic happens. We’ve always been ready and willing to feed and sustain but we also need help now. Many small businesses will not survive. Our government needs to seriously look at the situation and really grasp how many people are connected and affected through our business and industry.”
Her advice to young and aspiring chefs: “If you really want to cook, go all in. Be super focused and be observant. Ask questions and pay attention to details. The details are what’s going to make you great. Be consistent. Consistency will be one of your most valuable assets. But most importantly do what makes you happy.”
My advice is try the food Bloomfield is making at the Mayflower Inn. You’ll be reminded of what makes you love food so much in the first place.
The Mayflower Inn & Spa
118 Woodbury Road, Washington
Hours: Garden Room, Thu.-Sat. for dinner 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tap Room, Sun.-Wed. for lunch, dinner and brunch, with a limited all-day menu offered daily from 3-5 p.m.