Alan Bird: Pearls of Wisdom

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soho house, Ferran adria

Alan Bird, whose restaurant Bird of Smithfield will open in London next month
Alan Bird, whose restaurant Bird of Smithfield will open in London next month
Alan Bird was chef at the Ivy for 19 years before going on to work with the Soho House Group. His first restaurant Bird of Smithfield, a five-storey bar, restaurant and events space, is due to open its doors at the end of March in Smithfields, London. 

It’s been an ambition of mine to open my own restaurant​ for a long time.​  Every chef dreams of having their own place and seeing their name above the door.

My restaurant will serve British food with a twist.​ It will be similar to what I’ve done in the past. After working with Soho House and Caprice Holdings at the Ivy for the best part of 20 years doing British food, it’s what I know best.

I started out as an apprentice at the West Lodge Park Hotel in Cockfosters​ which is why I got involved with the Skills Show (In Birmingham in November 2012). An apprenticeship was the best option for me. I’d been offered a couple of places at catering colleges, but I wanted to start earning and it was the best training ground for a young chef.

If you’re not academically minded​ or someone who can afford to go to university then an apprenticeship can be a good alternative to furthering your knowledge while earning money at the same time. If you train on the job you’ll never lose those skills you’ve learnt.

My decision to do a chef apprenticeship divided my family​. My father was an engineer and he’d done an apprenticeship, so he was keen for me to do one, but my mum had gone to college and had to abandon her course when she fell pregnant with me, so she wanted me to go to college.

Before I worked at the Ivy I worked for Nico Ladenis.​ While I was there I got head hunted for a job as personal chef to Andrew Lloyd Webber. I thought it was a good move, but it didn’t work out. Fortunately Nico took me back.

Working at the Ivy was a phenomenal experience​. I’ll always hold it close to my heart. How many people do you know who stay at one place for nearly 20 years?

We used to get special requests from various diners at The Ivy​, whether they were celebrities or not. We always tried to deliver what they wanted.

Jamie Oliver approached us at the Ivy​ and asked us if we’d mentor the first batch of students at Fifteen. One of the guys I mentored was Aaron Craze. It’s great to see those you’ve worked with go on to build successful careers.

The Ivy made the World’s 50 Best restaurant’s list in the first year it ran​. I remember picking up my award and then sitting down and sharing a steak dinner with Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria – I was in pretty good company.

I was lucky enough to meet Ferran Adria in his kitchen at El Bulli after I’d dined there​. I knew the Maitre d’ and he said he’d introduce me, so I handed Ferran my business card that said I was head chef of the Ivy. Ferran can’t speak English, but through his translator he said “You’re from The Ivy, I’ve been trying to get a table there for ages”.

The chefs at Pizza East were buying in the pizza dough​ when I went to work there a couple of years ago. The space was great, but it was important that the dough production was in-house so I suggested we do that and worked with some great suppliers and producers. We really turned things around, saving production costs and turning Pizza East into a really strong brand.

Nick Jones has done a fantastic job at Soho House.​ I went to Dirty Burger just before Christmas and it was buzzing. Nick definitely sets trends rather than follows them.

I love Polpo and Spuntino.​ I have massive respect for Russell Norman. I loved working with him at Caprice Holdings.

It sounds obvious, but the nice thing about working for yourself​ is that everything you do is for you, your business and your business partners. I’m so excited about having my own place. 

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