AUTHOR: Alexandra Chaden, Segment Producer, The Mind of a Chef
CHEF: APRIL BLOOMFIELD
Part of what makes April’s food — or any food, for that matter — taste brighter and more like the food it’s meant to be, is salt.
It’s so simple: One ingredient. One mineral, really, but it makes all the difference in the world. It enhances the flavor of meats, vegetables, chocolate (true story), and even fruits (sprinkle it on grapefruit or watermelon — divine). We put it on everything, and yet rarely stop to think about how it gets from the sea to our tabletops.
I learned that it is not, in fact, transformed with trickery and a series of Wiccan incantations, but rather through a somewhat laborious and time-consuming process. At Jacobsen Salt in Oregon, Ben Jacobsen is hand-harvesting the white gold from the bay right outside his home. The resulting product are fat, jagged, thumbnail-sized flakes that bring your tongue straight to life. We also spent some time on the water in Anita Lo’s backyard in Long Island, where she showed us her mad fishing and clamming skills. And Brandon Jew made us a dish straight from the sea — fish skins and all.
April’s trick for a super smooth and creamy chowder is to puree the potatoes with some cream. It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments for budding home chefs everywhere. Here, our cameras make sure to get the process covered. One can never see too much potato purée in detail.
The finished product — April’s clam chowder with spring peas and garlic scapes. Despite the copious amounts of cream, it felt light enough to eat in early summer, thanks to celery leaves, lemon zest and the bright garlic scapes. Anita Lo & April wanted to cook with clams from the water near Anita’s house, but alas, weather and tide tables meant that we had to shoot the clamming scene a couple of weeks later. All good — through the magic of TV we made the clamming-into-cooking scenes seamless. Right?
In addition to the chowder, April whipped up a fresh pea purée with olive oil, garlic, and pecorino to spread on toast, and had made the crew her infamous Caesar salad the night before. She literally drove to Long Island with Caesar salad in her bag to feed us. It was one of the many bright spots of working with a chef who genuinely loves to cook and to feed people. We started off civilized but quickly devolved into eating salad with our fingers. It’s way tastier that way — it’s just science.
It was a VERY long morning for our NY-based crew — we were on the first day of an 11-day shoot out west, and had a 4:30am call time to get on the earliest flight out to Portland. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, we hopped in the cars and headed 90 minutes outside the city to Netart’s Bay to shoot at Jacobsen Salt. We twisted and turned through the evergreens in the Tillamook forest, leaving the city behind. And then pulled up to see this site in front of us. The light was gorgeous and the bay smelled so fresh and faintly briny — it woke us all up and we ended up filming everything we needed in one day, instead of the scheduled two.
After the water is filtered in from Netart’s Bay — which is just outside the doors here — it ends up in two of these massive tanks. The water was as smooth and reflective as glass. It was tempting to go for a swim …
Once the water goes through a couple of evaporation processes, it ends up in these smaller tanks set over a gas stove, where the crystals start to form. Ben is clearly a pro at this, but lifting the salt out of the vats was hard! You had to be careful not to break up the larger crystals, some of which were as big as the palm of my hand. Plus, fun fact — salt weighs a lot. Takes a little muscle.
April and our DP Ethan amidst our gear, splayed across Ben’s gravel driveway. Mixed in with our luggage. It doesn’t LOOK like the most efficient system, but we have our methods.
A true artist, Ethan saw an opportunity for a perfect time lapse. The changing sky and tides and mist rising from the bay made for a spectacular shot. Director Michael looks on approvingly. I loved how the whole place felt like a summer camp — complete with canoes, folding tables for lunch, and even swag — we all took home Jacobsen sweatshirts and hats as parting gifts.
Because we were a little ahead of schedule and we had about 2 hours to kill in Portland, we opted for crew lunch at the original Pok Pok in Portland. It did not disappoint. And clearly, we ordered lightly … this is only round one. We eat a lot of April’s food when shooting, and this was a departure from her “anal rustic” cooking. It was also great eating at a place like this with a chef, who had some strong opinions on what we should and shouldn’t try (pretty much everything landed in the ‘should’ column).
When SF chef Brandon Jew was talking about what he might make for our Sea/Salt episode, he blew our minds with his fish skin chicharrones. It was such a simple technique that’s used with other animal skins, but I’d never thought of making fish skin into a chip. He topped it with a pickly salmon tartare, dressed microgreens, and a dollop of salmon roe for garnish. The vibrant colors were gorgeous and totally enticing, but the flavor of the sea was literally in every element of the dish. He got an A+ on this assignment.