It’s not every day that an award-winning chef trades in their fine-dining apron to open up a fried chicken joint. But so the delicious story goes for Viet Pham, who along with his wife, Alexis, owns Park City’s Pretty Bird Hot Chicken (1775 Prospector Ave, prettybirdchicken.com), a fast-casual eatery specializing in Pham’s signature hot-and-spicy chicken.
Prior to opening Pretty Bird (which also has locations in Salt Lake City), Pham was co-owner, with Bowman Brown, of Forage, one of Utah’s most lauded fine-dining restaurants. Why would a talent like Pham, with so much technical ability, creativity, and chops in the kitchen, transition from polished flatware to finger foods? According to Pham, it’s possible he’s jaded from years working in the restaurant industry, or maybe he’s just becoming a grumpy old man, but the truth is sometimes he just wants to eat where he can put his elbows on the table.
“There are a few things that I really love about fine dining—and a few things I really hate,” he says. “It’s exciting when you’re young and learning all these techniques and finding your way as a chef. But then, there is so much ego that’s involved, as well, so the whole fine-dining experience ends up being really pretentious. To me, there’s nothing more pretentious than telling people why they should eat something and building a long narrative around a dish. It made sense at the time, but I just got tired of it and wanted to cook food that was familiar and comforting.”
Pham notes that nearly all cultures have a version of fried chicken, and while the food may be casual (unless, of course, you decide to pair your poultry with a bottle of Dom Perignon, a.k.a. the Dom P + Pretty B, available on the menu for dine-in only), his cooking techniques and quest for fried chicken nirvana are not. If you recall, Pham’s pursuit of perfection resulted in him beating celebrity chef Bobby Flay not once but twice on the Food Network cooking show Iron Chef America—one of those times by making hot chicken.
“Even to this day, I’m still working on perfecting the spices and our buns,” says Pham. “I just want to give customers something that’s consistent and delicious; to me, that’s what matters most.”
As to the question of how the name Pretty Bird was chosen, the answer is not that a team of savvy marketing researchers selected the moniker—according to Pham, it was inspired by a scene from the movie Dumb & Dumber. A far cry from fine dining, but that’s part of the fun. As Pham puts it, “Life is too short to be uptight.”