One day in 2001, Jill Colella Bloomfield got dressed and took the subway to her job at a think tank on Capitol Hill. At 10:30am, she quit, packed up her things, and walked out the door. Since she was already dressed for work, she didn’t want to just go home. So she headed to the Smithsonian, instead.
“The Julia Child exhibit had just opened, so I went to see that,” Bloomfield remembers. “I stood in Julia’s kitchen and it was just the perfect place to have my, ‘Oh, shit, what have I just done?’ moment.”
Julia’s inspiration led the young woman and novice cook on a circuitous path that ultimately brought her to where she is today: as the publisher and editor of Ingredient, a new bimonthly cooking magazine for kids that she runs out of her St. Paul home.
It’s a crazy time to start a print magazine, no? “Well, everybody zigs and I tend to zag,” Bloomfield says. “I’m not scared of that. Most of my investment in this is my own labor, the sweat of my brow.”
With the third issue at the printer, Bloomfield says her goal for the moment is to reach 10,000 subscribers. Right now, her base is mostly in the New York area. “They’re largely dual-income families, the same sort of people who send their kids to Kindermusik and Mandarin classes.” These are the folks who will beam with pride when 7-year-old Emma asks to make the coconut curry from the second issue or the Bavarian pretzels from the first.
The 24-page glossy magazine is entirely subscription supported. Bloomfield says that one of her inspirations is the famously perfectionist and ad-free Cook’s Illustrated. What Ingredient is not is preachy. There’s no “eat this, not that” health advice or elementary-school primers on carbs and fats. Baked goods and baked salmon get equal space. “My philosophy is ‘Moderation plus cookies,’” says Bloomfield.
Another part of her philosophy: Why start small? She landed interviews with Iron Chef Cat Cora for the first issue, Next Food Network Star winner Lisa Garza for the second, and chocolatier Jacques Torres for the third. “I guess I talk a good game!” Bloomfield laughs when asked what it was like to request interviews for an as-yet-nonexistent magazine.
Those articles and others, she hopes, will also encourage the adults in a household to pick up Ingredient and enjoy it. “I think parents are also readers [of the magazine],” she says. Maybe those parents, like her, will enjoy learning, for example, that Oktoberfest is basically an anniversary party for a big wedding 200 years ago. “I’m a fan of trivia,” she says. “I like delighting people with knowledge.”
The work of creating Ingredient is very much integrated with Bloomfield’s life. She has her content for rest of the year mapped out and her grocery shopping and meals planned accordingly. As the chief cook and bottle washer of a small magazine, she does it all, from recipe testing to writing and photography to layout. Bloomfield says she also relies on her sister Liz, in Washington, D.C., who serves as managing editor and sounding board. Right now, Bloomfield says, a good two-thirds of her time is spent on marketing Ingredient to the influential mommy blogger market.
Bloomfield says the kid she’s writing for is her 7-year-old self. And 7-year-old Jill was a picky eater. How picky? Well, the curry and salmon would have been totally out of the question. And let’s just say that she didn’t try white rice until she was 21 or 22. That picky.
“My upbringing was bottles, cans, boxes, and jars,” she says. Pointing to a story about jalapenos, she adds, “I think about what I would have benefited from at this age, and it’s this.” In her editor’s note in the second issue, she talked directly to kids about her own struggle with expanding her palate. She cooks every recipe herself, tweaking it until she, the ultimate picky eater, enjoys it. “Success in this requires integrity. Kids can spot what’s not real.”
That pickiness continued well into adulthood. Bloomfield remembers dining at some of D.C.’s finest restaurants during her days on Capitol Hill and looking longingly at the kids’ menu.
Unlike a lot of picky eaters, however, Bloomfield felt a strong pull toward the world of food. After she quit her think tank job and communed for a few minutes with Julia, she took a two-day private chef course — “That was the big new thing back then, especially in D.C.” — but she ultimately decided that upscale cooking wasn’t for her. Instead, she decided to reach out toward kids like herself and started a business called Picky Eaters, giving hands-on cooking birthday parties for kids. She ran the business for five years while working as a middle-school teacher.
During that time, Bloomfield developed a reputation as an expert on the topic, giving talks to parenting groups about getting picky eaters to try new foods, and working as a spokesperson for British publishing house Dorling Kindersley’s line of kids’ cookbooks. She even wrote her own Jewish Holidays Cookbook for DK and now has a teen technique-based cookbook in the works, for which she serves as the American editor. She also blogged professionally for General Mills for several years and taught kids’ cooking classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill.
A job change brought Bloomfield and her husband to St. Paul two and a half years ago. Last year when Talmud Torah of St. Paul closed their middle school, where she had been teaching English, she lost her job. But, she says, “That opened the door for this… If this could be what I do for the rest of my life, I would be very very happy…. My background is words and food and pedagogy, and this brings all of that together.”