James Bird – Head Chef, The Cross Keys, Woolstone
Newport Road, Great Woolstone, Milton Keynes, MK15 0AA
01908 528 145
When Hannah Edwards and her partner Zani learnt that they would soon be taking over The Cross Keys in late 2015, they immediately knew they wanted James Bird as their Head Chef. Friends for a number of years, Hannah had long-held the belief that James’ talents were wasted in the kitchens he had been working. When they opened the doors to this pub for the first time in February 2016, it opened the floodgates for James. Now, after almost 15 years in the industry, he could finally demonstrate his creative talents as a Chef.
Having studied at Barnfield College over 15 years ago, James has gone on to work at a number of establishments in Milton Keynes. He was promoted to Head Chef at HaHa Bar & Grill in The Hub before they were bought by another company. He acknowledges that his role here at Cross Keys is his first opportunity to really put his stamp on something and show people what he can do.
Having eaten at Cross Keys, it’s obvious that the Head Chef knows how to cook food packed with flavour. With so much choice on the menu, and so many people to cater for on a daily basis we wondered just how James can cope? “You just get it done. We get it done. Of course its hard graft, but I enjoy what I do” he said. “We’ve actually reduced the number of dishes available since we opened. We’re constantly reviewing what we think works.”
The Cross Keys’ website states that they source local, fresh produce to create stunning homemade British dishes. James quickly reals off a list of those supplies but is also keen to mention that many of the herbs present in those dishes are now grown on-site. There’s also a gentleman who lives less than a mile away who grows some fabulous rhubarb. You cannot source much closer to home than this!
Was it worth it?
It might be stating the obvious to say a Chef loves food – but James’ face lights up; it is etched with passion whenever he talks about new dishes he is bringing to the menu at Cross Keys. I’ve just eaten a three course meal. He smiles and draws shapes with his hands when talking about a new dessert that is coming soon. The way he talks about the dish somehow makes me hungry again!
His love and passion for food and drink takes him everywhere too. James openly admits he spends a small fortune dining up and down the country. Almost ashamed, he tells the story how his liking for Brandy once got the better of him. He ordered a double at the cost of £165. Was it worth it? “Probably not!” came the reply.
He talks excitedly about his next fine dining venture which is none other than Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at The Dorchester. A winner of no fewer than three Michelin Stars. Never mind the food – let’s hope the Brandy stays under lock and key!
In all seriousness, the almost constant desire to try new places and new dishes is clearly part of James’ quest to reach the top of his profession. He has effectively only had licence to cook his own style of food since joining Cross Keys. He has a willingness to refine the food he serves but also one day, own a restaurant with his own name above the door.
Before that however, he has to deal with the forthcoming expansion in early 2018 at Cross Keys. This refurbishment will transform this venue and no doubt greatly increase the number of people dining here too. James’ can’t wait for the challenges ahead. You sense he will be more than capable of taking this establishment to the next level.
Can’t ask for more
James’ culinary skills are not the only driving force behind Cross Keys’ success. Here, it is all about everyone working together with the same ambitions. Hannah and Zani, who have a wealth of experience in the food industry are naturally delighted with the progress that has been made. “This is the best team I’ve ever worked with. We are friends working together with the same passion” commented Hannah. You couldn’t really ask for much more could you?