Chef James Bloomfield is still a few years shy of his 30th birthday, yet the Cadillac-raised, Great Lakes Culinary Institute–trained chef has already carved out a noteworthy career. After kitchen stints around the country, including working alongside star chef Paul Qui in Austin, Bloomfield returned to his native North, where he has teamed up with Pete Peterson (former owner of the legendary Tapawingo) to open the warm and contemporary Alliance restaurant in Traverse City. Here, he gives us a taste of what makes him tick:
Was there anything about your childhood in Cadillac that influenced your interest in the culinary arts?
When I was growing up, we always had dinner at the dinner table, pretty much seven nights a week. It just takes so much effort to get that done. I think that had a big impact on me and what I wanted to do.
Any particular foods or flavors you remember from that time?
My grandmother and my grandfather on my mom’s side were from Hungary, so they cooked some of the most amazing food, like stuffed cabbage—I’ll never forget those. And it was such a labor: They would squeeze their own tomatoes to get the tomato juice to cook the cabbage rolls in. The care and love that went into what they did—that made an impression.
Tell us about the cuisine at Alliance.
We do a lot of Michigan produce, but we present it with world flavors. I wouldn’t put it into any specific cuisine because I pull from a lot of different cuisines. It’s definitely not a vegetarian restaurant, but we’re going to focus on vegetable dishes and much smaller portions of proteins. We’re going to change the menu every day, just to make sure that everything is super fresh.
What are you most looking forward to?
We’re not going to have appetizers or soups or salads listed separately, it’s just going to be one list of dishes and they’ll range in price. The thought process is that we want people to order more dishes and share with each other instead of just ordering one entrée with a starch and a vegetable. We want to encourage sharing and creating a community inside of the restaurant.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My style used to be fine dining and small components, but a lot of food waste goes into that: You have to cut a carrot into a much smaller carrot. Now I would describe my style as very vegetable based but also rustic. I just try to make the vegetables shine. I mean, some of this stuff that I got at the farmers market this summer was some of the best vegetables I’ve ever had. When you have product like that, you just want to highlight it, not manipulate it into something else.
What was it like to come back to this region and see the whole “foodie” scene exploding?
It’s really cool because people are actually researching what they are eating. They care more. That way we can highlight, like, Loma Farm’s kohlrabi; I don’t know if you could have done that five years ago. That’s huge for me, because that’s how I love to cook. I would rather have their kohlrabi than a steak, which I never thought I’d say.