Chef of The Week: Alistair Birt, Head Pastry Chef at Harrods
How long have you worked at Harrods and what were you doing before?
I have been working at Harrods for 18 months, having joined from William Curley where I worked for six years.
Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I have always had a passion for food and it has always been central to my life. I learnt the basics at the elbow of my mother, but I really learnt my craft with the excellent tuition of Yolande Stanley and throughout my six years with William Curley.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I enjoy every aspect of being a chef, from exercising my creative side and designing new products, to organising a large team. I get a huge amount of pleasure from training and coaching younger chefs and love the team spirit of a kitchen environment. Simply being able to work with food every day makes me incredibly happy.
Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without
Butter, salt and sugar.
Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My Kitchen Aid, it really is the ultimate piece of equipment!
What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
In pastry specifically, the finish is becoming less decorative and more refined. The use of different textures is very popular, incorporating more colour into glazes and chocolate work.
What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Attention to detail and a lack of love in their product. I think you can always see when a chef doesn’t have love for what they are creating. I also believe the customer experience should be central to any dish or product, therefore it really is important to try the full dish or product you are creating to fully understand the consumer experience.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Winter is my favourite time of the year for food. To me, there is nothing better than having friends and family round on a cold dark evening and tucking into rich, slow cooked meat and winter veg or a selection of cheese and red wine. Plus, I love Christmas!
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of our new patisserie range launching in November, it’s a big change from what were currently doing. The process of development from start to finish has been a joy and a real team effort and I can’t wait for it to be on sale soon.
How do you come up with new dishes?
We’re always aware of exciting new trends and techniques and love to play around and put our own twist on them. I’m very fortunate to have a talented, multinational team so we bounce a lot of ideas off each other. There is no better feeling than getting a sudden brain wave and producing results better than you imagined.
Who was your greatest influence?
My two greatest influences in my career have been Yolande Stanley and William Curley. I’m lucky to have two great mentors.
Tell us three chefs you admire
Patrick Roger, Yann Couvreur and Stephane Leroux.
What is your favourite cookbook?
Too many! I have a first edition Mrs Beeton that was passed down to me from my mother. My university text books are also favourites of mine as they have solid recipes and are a great reference tool. My final favourite is the first ever cookbook given to me, Jamie Oliver The Naked Chef. What a chef!
Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I’m very excited to see what Adam Handling’s new restaurant will be like, I loved the concept and the food from The Frog, plus he’s a great guy, too
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Adam Smith moving to Coworth Park, I can’t wait to see what he and his team will achieve there, he is one of the most talented cooks I have had the pleasure to know and I just love his style and flavours.