AUTHOR: Alexandra Chaden, Segment Producer, The Mind of a Chef
CHEF: APRIL BLOOMFIELD
Can you even imagine how difficult it is to open a restaurant? However hard you think it is, multiply that by about 6000. And then you should start to realize all of the details and fine print and time and thought that go into an endeavor like this.
We were fortunate enough to be filming as April prepared to open Tosca, her first venture outside of New York, in San Francisco. We saw her miraculously keeping her cool as people demanded answers from her on a daily basis — the minutiae were mind-boggling. The big-picture wheels (construction, designing the kitchen, ordering cookware) were already set in motion, but the food side of things was just coming together. Finalizing the menu, finding purveyors, testing recipes — these were all things April and her head chef, Josh, had to do over the summer while we filmed. We saw the space amidst construction, and captured April & Josh testing recipes for the final menu.
And while we were in town, we got to see some of what inspired April, including the master of morning buns, Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery. Watching him methodically create his iconic dish was almost as good as eating it. Almost…
The raw Tosca space. Pretty amazing that in just a couple month’s time the place will be hosting hordes of hungry San Franciscans. It hasn’t had a working kitchen in over 50 years, so on top of all the cosmetic work (floors, banquettes, paint), there is serious engineering work to be done (like, say, installing an entirely new kitchen and all relevant ductwork).
This photo captures the dynamic between April and Josh better than words ever can. Josh — aka Joshy Pants — has been with April for 8 years, working at both The John Dory and The Spotted Pig, and came out west to open up Tosca. He is thorough and meticulous and a tiny bit neurotic and one of the hardest working guys you’ll ever meet. He also sometimes finds April’s demands/requests to be a handful, and she relishes hazing him just a little bit.
I’m obsessed with the bright green centers of these gooey broccoli rabe buns. April was so inspired by Chad Robertson’s morning buns at Tartine, she flipped his sweet version on its head with these provolone and chili-spiked savory ones. I’m fairly certain they each contain about a stick of butter.
They were filming the sequel to “Planet of the Apes” across the street from our hotel. Just kidding — Apes had her very own van to take her to/from every shoot location. She’s totally a diva like that.
Here’s what the average non-restaurateur never thinks about — testing canned tomatoes. When April said she and Josh were testing recipes and looking for product, I envisioned jaunts to local farms and ranches. But of course, being an Italian restaurant, they had to sample every type of canned tomato, olive oil, and salt- and oil-packed anchovy they could find.
North Beach is San Francisco’s old school Italian neighborhood, but it also boasts some of the city’s liveliest nudie shows. These clubs are behind Tosca, and there were times when we swore we could hear the faint “unce unce” of the dancer’s music between power drilling.
The most divine meatballs you’ve ever had — a labor of love from April & Josh after much messing around. There was a lively debate on the merits of fennel seed inclusion (Josh wanted more, April wanted less). Whatever the result will be on the menu, the crew didn’t mind being the guinea pigs. We really took one for the team by eating these for our lunch.
April scopes out her new old digs. The place was opened as a bar in 1919, just a year before that disastrous American experiment known as prohibition began. The space stayed afloat by bringing in espresso machines from Italy and serving food.
The street scene outside of Tosca is quintessential San Francisco, with the Transamerica spire nearby and the oxidized green of the Zoetrope building at the far corner. It’s also across the street from City Lights. Impossible to get more local than this.