Two minutes with Matt Harris, Thunderbird Fried Chicken

Published 3 July 2019

This week Matt Harris, Head Chef and Founder of Thunderbird Fried Chicken, speaks to CODE about what prompted him to enter the Hospitality industry, why he’s so inspired by Heston Blumenthal and what’s next for Thunderbird. 

When did you realise you wanted to work in hospitality?

Following things not going to plan in my motor racing career. I was living in the US at the time, and was introduced to fried chicken and BBQ, the likes of which didn’t really exist in the UK.  It was a love of recreating and adapting those classics that put me on the path I’m on. 

Where and how did you get your start?

This great journey started 10 years ago. My first dream was very far from hospitality – I wanted to be a race car driver and travelled all the way to the Deep South to take part in Nascar. However, things did not exactly go as planned. After losing any chance of sponsorship (blame the 2008 recession), I quickly discovered another passion, not quite automobile related: fried chicken.

My travels around the South ignited my passion, and upon returning to the UK, I bought an ambulance which I converted into a food truck. It soon became BBQ Lab, which took a scientific approach to cooking. Next thing I knew, my wings were awarded best in London at WingFest. I decided to re-brand as Thunderbird Fried Chicken and after taking on the street food scene at Dinerama and Giant Robot, I was beyond happy to be able to launch two permanent sites in Brixton and the O2 Arena, followed by a new site on Villiers Street, freshly opened this late April.

Who has been really influential on your career and why?

I think one of my main inspirations since the start of my career has been Heston. Not only because of his understanding of cooking as a science, but also for his approach of a meal as a multi-sensory experience – it goes beyond just flavour, it’s about the formula. 

What’s next for you?

I’m constantly in the kitchen, working on new recipes and ways to deliver the perfect fried chicken. From a business perspective, it’s been such a great ride, so I definitely want to take the Thunderbird brand even further and keep on expanding. I’m also really excited to announce that Thunderbird is coming back to WingFest this year – after winning in 2015, we certainly aim to be crowned with Best Wings again.

What’s your one piece of advice to someone starting out?

Love it. It’s a hard, hard industry, and you’ll only win if you’re willing to push harder than anyone else.

Where did you have your last great meal?

Homeslice, it’s consistently excellent in every way.

Are there any openings you are looking forward to?

A little self-indulgent, but that has to be our next opening.

Where is the most exciting city for hospitality (aside from London)?

That’s a tricky one to answer as as I’ve barely left London in 4 years!

Who would you identify as a rising star?

There is a wave of great businesses coming up from Street Food, all of which have been built by incredibly talented and hardworking entrepreneurs.

Sum up your current work life in one sentence.

Spinning lots of plates and loving it.

This Q&A was first featured in the CODE Careers Bulletin. To subscribe please click here

Weekly bulletin. Eyes and ear of the industry