Bird food: Top chef builds his perfect kitchen

As far as chef CVs go, you don’t get many more impressive than Alan Bird’s, the former group executive chef at Soho House and head chef at The Ivy.

A 20-year spell at Caprice Holdings saw Bird work in some of the UK’s most esteemed restaurants, as well as travel the world delivering the group’s culinary programmes to chefs.

So when the opportunity arose to launch his own restaurant venture in the heart of London, he knew exactly what kind of kitchen equipment he wanted to power the operation.

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Based just yards from the famous Smithfield meat market in Farringdon, Bird of Smithfield is spread over five floors, encompassing a 46-cover main restaurant, lounge, basement cocktail bar, private dining areas and roof terrace.

“A membership club without the membership,” is how the man himself describes it. With extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, the kitchen is running most hours of the day, so Bird knew from the start that he would need to source equipment capable of coping with the relentless production schedule.

In his previous roles, Bird had worked closely with Essex-based catering equipment distributor CCE. With firsthand experience of its project management and fabrication capabilities, and the added bonus of the firm’s proximity to East London, he asked CCE to design and fit the main production kitchen and a supporting prep kitchen, as well as the various bar areas.

“The first thing we did was speak about the menu, the aspects of what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted to do in terms of servicing the building and how I saw the two different kitchens working,” explains Bird.

As with many London venues, the most pressing issue was space, with the main kitchen measuring just 25m² and the prep kitchen spanning 6m². But Bird was adamant from the start that he didn’t want the quality and reliability of the kit to be compromised.

This objective certainly appears to have been met, with Bird becoming the first chef to adopt Charvet’s recently-launched 700 series, a heavy duty suite ideal for sites with a limited footprint.

“I said I wanted to have the Charvet range as it looked a great piece of kit and I had worked with Charvet previously,” he says. “It is a modular unit but it looks like a suited unit, so just from an aesthetics point of view it looks a great piece of kit, but it also performs well.”

One unique feature of the Charvet suite is that it has Adande refrigeration units deliberately built below it.

“In such a small space, with all the stainless steel around, it would have caused a lot of unnecessary ambient heat if we had an oven underneath that range, so I said I’d rather have two Adande drawers instead,” he comments. “It gives us extra storage space rather than taking up space with refrigeration cabinets elsewhere, plus the Adandes are more energy efficient. We’ve got two combi ovens standing at the end of the range, so you don’t need another couple of ovens underneath. We open the drawer, take the fish or meat out, and put it on the grill. It has got great workflow.”

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Aside from the cooking range and refrigeration, the other area that Bird felt strongly about was warewashing. As well as the kitchen, there were also the bar areas to think about.

“I wanted a dishwasher that ensured I wouldn’t need to have staff standing there polishing glasses and cutlery. CCE recommended a Meiko with built-in reverse osmosis, which also cuts down on having a water softener. In years gone by when I have worked with different machines, the water softener takes up quite a bit of space but because this is built-in as part of the RO unit it takes up less space, the energy efficiency on it is great and the end-result is that it saves on labour because you don’t have to stand there polishing the glasses.”

Additionally, a couple of BarAid machines have been installed in the cocktail bar and terrace bar where a high turnover of glasses is expected.

Bird estimates that the investment on the two kitchens totals close to £200,000 with the build cost factored in as well.But he insists it’s worth every penny if it means securing a high standard of equipment and service.

“I wanted to work with the best quality pieces of kit because I need that reliability, and I also need to work with guys that are not only going to do a good installation but give me a good service plan as well. Any chef wants that peace of mind because when a piece of kit goes wrong and it is a busy day you want to be able to get it back online as soon as possible, otherwise you’ll have a lot of glum faces in the kitchen and a lot of glum faces in the restaurant.”

Ray Costelloe, managing director of CCE, says that maximising the available floor space and creating the secondary kitchen to boost prep space were key to getting the flow of the kitchen right.

Each section of the main kitchen has been carefully designed to maximise productivity, while a two-way service flow based around the positioning of the dumb waiters ensures that each floor can be adequately served.

Space-saving quirks include gantries coming from the ceiling, fold-out racks, cutting boards and speed rails to keep olive oils and vinegars in one place. CCE even designed a small “office” station into the end of the pass for Bird to keep his laptop and paperwork on.

“Above all, we stood true to the plans of what we wanted to achieve there, which is a high quality kitchen with some of the top equipment that money can buy,” insists Costelloe. “We haven’t compromised anywhere.”

You can see exclusive pictures of the kitchen in our online image gallery here.

Spec sheet

Key items of catering equipment installed at Bird of Smithfield include:

Adande: Refrigeration

Adventys: Induction hobs

Bar Aid: Glasswashers

CCE: Fabrication

Charvet: Range

Lincat: Fryer

Meiko: Warewashing

Rational: Combi ovens

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