The buzz is increasing around San Francisco chef Kim Alter and her beautifully crafted produce-forward tasting menus. The culinary force behind the lauded Nightbird restaurant (nightbirdrestaurant.com) and the adjoining cocktail destination, Linden Room, Alter began her career at Acquerello under legendary chef Suzette Gresham. San Francisco sat down with Alter to learn about her philosophy, her cooking and why Nightbird has become a go-to destination for food-world insiders.
When did sourcing become so important to you? Working at Manresa and Ubuntu, where we had our own vegetable gardens, was life-changing for me as a chef. I could taste the difference in the produce, and it changed how I think about ingredients and flavor.
You appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef as the mentor of contestant Michelle Minori, and you’ve mentored several other chefs over the years. What drives you to help young chefs?I’m a teacher at heart, and I know what it takes to get started in this business.I went through so much opening Nightbird—I want to help other chefs avoid some of those pitfalls.
Nightbird and Linden Room are both restaurant industry insider destinations. How has that evolved for you?It means so much when someone comes in for dinner and says another chef sent them. We get so many people who tell us that. When I was younger, I wanted the awards, the accolades—all of that stuff. But then I realized that I’d rather be a chef whose restaurant other chefs want to come to.
What’s next for you as a chef and for Nightbird as a restaurant? We have a few projects in the works. We’re expanding Nightbird and Linden Room in early 2020, taking over the space next door—artist Caroline Lizarraga will be doing the design. We’re in discussions for a vegetable-forward restaurant concept in Asia. And we’re looking at other locations here in California for a potential second restaurant.
How did you develop the concept for Nightbird’s design? Caroline did the walls. We wanted to evoke San Francisco’s fog. The light fixtures are by two women in Oakland. My mother is a seamstress, and she made the drapes, coasters and napkins. The menu font was created for Nightbird. I wanted the design to be filled with meaningful personal touches.