He’s risen through the ranks at The Ritz in London, won the Roux Scholarship and been called ‘one to watch’ by Michel Roux Snr – as well as achieved a coveted Michelin star for five-star luxury hotel Coworth Park, in Ascot. Rosie Jenkinson talks to 31-year-old executive chef Adam Smith about why having a passion for cooking and being in the right place can make all the difference.
I think being in that five-star, luxury hotel environment from day one is what has moulded my career,” says chef Adam Smith.
His first foray into the cooking industry was at the prestigious Ritz hotel in London after he decided to leave college one year into his catering course, because he knew he’d “thrive” in a working environment rather than the classroom.
“One of the lecturers said to me, ‘Obviously you’re a good guy. If you leave you need to go to the right place,’ and they set me up with an interview with John Williams, executive chef at The Ritz.” He describes the experience at The Ritz and working alongside John Williams as “amazing”.
“I have a lot of respect for chef. I find it very difficult to call him John. It was fantastic. What’s important, I think, for any young chef that comes into the industry, is that you need to have as many opportunities as you can. You need to find the right person to work for, who’s going to give you the right opportunities and the right support – and John Williams is one of those people. He’s very passionate about young people and the industry and he gave me a lot of opportunities.
“I started there as a second commis chef and I left there as executive sous chef – so I was chef’s right hand man. I was running the kitchen on a day-to-day basis.” It was a great learning curve for Adam and gave him the opportunity to learn all aspects of the food offering in the hotel, as well as in the kitchen. “It helped me to become a more well-rounded chef.”
Whilst working at The Ritz, Adam entered the Roux Scholarship in 2012 – and won.
“Competitions were something that John encouraged from early on and I admired all the chefs who had done it. To me, they were at the top of their game. People like Sat Bains and Andrew Fairlie – one of the UK’s best chefs who sadly passed away earlier this year – and André Garrett and Simon Hulstone. These were all people that I’d admired and had followed their careers in the industry, and I thought, ‘I want a slice of that’.”
His prize was the opportunity to cook and train under the supervision of a leading chef at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant anywhere in the world for up to three months. Adam chose Le Meurice in Paris, working under chef Yannick Alléno.
After winning the Roux Scholarship, and having spent 10 years at The Ritz, 25-year-old Adam wanted a new challenge. In his words, “I had done the big, five-star hotel with a big team of 65-70 chefs. I wanted to try something smaller.”
He left London and moved to Yorkshire as head chef at The Devonshire Arms. “It was a great experience and I learnt a lot,” he says. “I learned a lot more of how to manage myself and how to manage people. We achieved a lot with a small team, but it also made me realise, the perfect thing for me is actually somewhere in between The Ritz and The Devonshire Arms.
“It’s not a really small kitchen or really big kitchen, it’s somewhere like Coworth Park. It’s that five-star hotel with a five-star, luxury environment. It’s the perfect place for me where I have really found my feet. I think that’s come across in the success that we’ve had.”
In 2017, Coworth Park was awarded a Michelin Star – just one year after Adam joined. “It’s because I found the right place for me,” explains Adam. “I know it sounds cliché but I genuinely drive up the drive every day and think it’s such a beautiful place to work.
“When you’re looking for a new role, I feel like it’s important that you could improve something, I think it’s important that you could learn something, and you have to feel proud of where you are.
“When you feel those things you can give 100 per cent, if not more, and you can’t do that half-heartedly. You can’t do that if you don’t believe in it and live it. I think that’s where I’ve been very lucky and found somewhere like Coworth Park where I feel at home. I enjoy being here.”
His passion for his work is evident in the way he talks about it. He describes how, “we’ve got a new menu starting in the restaurant tonight and we’ve been working on some of the dishes for months to make sure they’re right. I couldn’t sleep last night because I just wanted to come into work to get things done. To see it, to taste it, to see it all put together,” says Adam.
He adds: “I’m very much a hands on chef. I like to be in the kitchen. I like to touch and feel things. I like the camaraderie, too. I think it’s so important to have a happy atmosphere where people enjoy being there, learning and don’t feel under pressure 24 hours of the day. You don’t get the best out of people that way.”
Adam describes the food offering at Coworth Park as “classical cooking which is beautiful to look at. Like art on a plate.”
“We have a caviar tart which has been on the menu for almost two years, but it’s one of those dishes that every time I see it go out, it fills me with pride. It epitomises what our food style is about with classical flavour combinations of crab, crème fraiche, lemon, caviar, and when you put it in your mouth it just tastes fantastic. That for me is always exciting.”
Although he has had great success in his career so far, Adam still takes great joy in the everyday parts of his job. “Dinner service is my favourite part of the day and my favourite shift of the week is Saturday night. I just love it. There’s nothing better than showing off what you’ve worked hard for. We work so hard every day to produce the best food that we can, and it’s all for the service,” says Adam.
“When guests walk through the door we don’t just meet their expectations, we want to exceed them. We want them to walk away saying, ‘wow, that was amazing. I can’t wait to go back’.
“Service is when that happens. All the hard work done before is building up to that moment when you put the plate down in front of somebody – for them to taste it and say that it’s amazing. That’s why I enjoy service so much.”
“Some people make a massive journey to come and try our food which is fantastic,” Adam adds. It’s something we’re very proud of, that people travel from all over the country. But sometimes we have guests in the restaurant just because it’s part of a beautiful hotel and it’s someone’s special occasion and they are there to enjoy time with their family.
“Our food offering across the whole property is done to the best that we can do – I’d like to say we have the same quality but just a different style. The beef I use in Restaurant Coworth Park is the same beef I’d use in The Barn, our more casual restaurant. In the restaurant it would be more in the style of a destination restaurant, whereas in
The Barn it’s just simple steak and chips with a béarnaise sauce. Because if I was in that environment, what would I want to eat? I’d want to eat that.”
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