We Grill – Alex Bond
Chef Alex Bond is the owner of Michelin-starred Alchemilla in Nottingham. For Alex, being a chef was never a decision, he just gravitated towards food. Having started out washing pots, followed by work experience, every job Alex had took him closer to his dream of being a chef.
Tell us about Alchemilla…
We focus on the best produce and never take our eye off the ball. I don’t have a god-given talent, but I work really, really hard and always ask myself: would I pay for this? Is it good enough? I know how hard people have to work. To spend their money here is a big pressure and we have to deliver. I want every customer to leave feeling that they had an excellent meal and it was worth every single penny. It’s also the building that makes it special. A friend works in property and he suggested it as a restaurant. It had been empty for 150 years and needed a lot of work. I couldn’t afford it but could picture how incredible it would be. I worked up some numbers, investors came onboard and we made it happen.
What’s been the proudest moment of your career to date?
Being awarded a Michelin star in October last year. We were low on staff and busy prepping for that evening’s dinner service, and we were presented with it by the Michelin team in person just after lunch. They’d tipped off our restaurant manager, who kept it quiet, and then they asked if they could come into the kitchen. It was filmed – you can watch it on Alchemilla’s website. It was such an incredible feeling, but we had to focus on that evening’s service. We just kept looking at each other incredulously during the evening – thinking, did that really happen?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That no good food comes from bad produce. This was drilled into me when I first started out and I’ve always followed it. Restaurants must be led by their ingredients; it’s the most important way to deliver top-quality dishes.
Who, or what inspires you?
I’ve worked for lots of different chefs in different regions and learnt something from all of them. I worked with Sat Bains and he inspired me every single day. He taught me to really focus on the produce and get creative, as well as being all about the customer – this, in particular, is so, so important.
What do you think makes a great chef?
It has to be attention to detail. If you focus on all the tiny details, it’s clear in the end result. It’s also essential that you never stand still. Never stop trying something new. The worst thing you can do is fall for your own hype – it’s been the downfall of so many.
What’s your signature dish?
I’ve always steered away from having a signature dish. I think it keeps you stuck and we want to keep on moving. It’s not always helpful as it can make you resistant to change. There are dishes that are hugely popular here, but we continually look at ways to evolve them.
What would be your ultimate meal?
As I eat mainly plant-based meals, my ultimate menu would be a massive aged rib-eye steak, served medium rare, with Béarnaise sauce, plenty of chips (with ketchup)and onion rings.
What’s one gadget you can’t live without in the kitchen?
It would have to be my Rational oven. It steams and roasts and you can use it instead of a water bath. There are few things better for cooking bread. It’s the best oven there is.
What are the ingredients you couldn’t live without?
It has to be yeast. It’s the most versatile, amazing ingredient.I use it in lots of different ways, such as sauces, purees and butters, even cocktails and ice cream. A great way to use it is to cook it in butter until it caramelises. Or roast Nutri-Yeast and it smells and tastes like grilled cheese.
What advice would you give to any aspiring chef?
Get your head down and work hard. Learn your craft and get the foundations right. Even the most modern, progressive restaurant is based on the solid foundation of classic cookery.