Chef Kim Alter

We were very lucky to meet chef Kim Alter and try her wonderful tasting menu, while she was making food magic for a short guest spot at Carousel London. She’s the founder of Nightbird in San Francisco, and creates a fortnightly tasting menu inspired by ingredients from the rich Californian coastline. We had a chat to find out more about her inspiration.

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Kim, tell us about your tasting menu, can you talk us through its creation? How do you decide what to use and how? It was a little hard in London, since I base my menu on what I can physically pick out at a farmer's market in San Francisco.  But I just based it on what was in season and what could I make best in an unfamiliar kitchen.  

We know you're very inspired by San Francisco, what is it that you love most about the place and the food? The product is probably number one.  I go to the farmers’ market every day and have strong relationships with every farmer, to the point of knowing the name of the animal or what the captain's name is on the boat that caught the fish. The community is amazing too, we always take care of each other – whether it is stopping by for a drink or to borrow something when needed. I have travelled a lot, and our hospitality in SF is at the top I think.

What do you most want Londoners to learn from your menu? Is it different to what you have created in SF? I guess I would want them to see that you can be in a casual setting and have a plate of food that isn't too precious but showcases technique and tastes delicious. That is what we try to accomplish at Nightbird.  I wouldn't say the menu done was a 360 from Nightbird, but you would get a very different experience in SF.

When did you fall in love with cooking? Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a chef? I fell in love with cooking early, not through family traditions, but I like making people happy.  Cooking for school projects and seeing the excitement on people's faces when you made something was very gratifying. 

What's it like being a woman in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry? Do you think it's changing? I mean I could go down a #metoo road here, but I think our business is very hard and if I am treated unfairly or in a way I wouldn't treat someone, my mind always goes to, "Is it because I am a woman?".  Maybe it is, but all that does is make me work harder to prove to myself – being a woman only makes me stronger.

What do you love to do outside your cheffing world? How do you relax? There isn't a lot of time when you own a small business. I work every day, but when there is a break, I normally try to look after my health. Lots of acupuncture, barre class and then drinking and eating with friends

What are your hopes for the future? For you and your food? I have a lot of hopes. I hope hospitality isn't dying! It's getting harder and harder to be in this industry so I hope I can grow with the changes and technology, but not lose who I am as a chef.  I only can hope for evolution, always. Being stagnant is not an option for me, my staff or my food.

Next time, we’d like to try Kim’s food against a San Franciscan backdrop. Give Nightbird a follow on Insta @nightbirdsf and head there if you’re in the area.