Reflections on Sustainability at Nightbird

By Sean Kenniff | Kim Van Liefferinge


Sean Kenniff
Kim Van Liefferinge
Chef Kim Alter of Nightbird
Chef Kim Alter of Nightbird

Kim Alter’s tour-de-force prix fixe menu at Nightbird is personal and poetic. Take her all-black, concise dish of scallop, trumpet mushroom, and truffle. It’s from a menu Alter created all about her mother, referencing a time when her mom went temporarily blind due to an illness. Another dish leaps of the plate with the voluptuous contours of deliberately placed squash ribbons. The lobster-squash-bay composition is Alter’s rebuke of the winter doldrums. Sharp with citrus, the sheets of winter veg are fiery sungold yellow, beaming at you as if from a Crayola box. The extra mini courses that come between each of the mains posses the same auteurship and deliciousness. Alter calls them “reflections.”

“It’s a way to utilize waste and it keeps the guest thinking, providing a nice pause,” says Alter. In that moment of reflection, her hope is that guests may contemplate or initiate conversation about sustainability. It’s a brilliant, spoonful-of-sugar meal enhancement from a chef cooking with conviction.  

The mini courses are one bite or a few sips, and are entirely composed of scraps and upcycled ingredients from the courses they bridge. “This one is meant to be eaten with your fingers,” Alter instructs. The morsel is a coil of beet flavored with burnt makrut lime and yuzu and garnished with chrysanthemum greens. The thoughtful transition connects course one—shima-aji, beet, black vinegar, uni—to the lobster-squash-bay course.     

Dark and sexy reflection number two is a sipper (or a shooter) composed of a broth made with lobster shell and head, burnt onion, and rice. Alter takes the rice from the strained broth and makes a chip to garnish. The cup segways to the scallop-black trumpet mushroom-black truffle course. The next reflection is a succulent bite of mushroom conifted in fermented truffle butter, grilled on a binchotan, and spiked with truffle vinegar. It leads to a main course of beef coated in leek ash and served with roasted brassicas and green garlic. 

Alter’s reflections are an added-value experience with the practical bonus of not increasing the bottom while also having the benefit of being in line with her ideals. “I’m a big teacher. I love working with cooks and creating better future cooks. We make smart decisions now that will pay off later,” says Alter. It’s a big picture mentality and fresh, elegant take on sustainability in fine dining.     

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