Chef Interview: Adam Smith, Coworth Park (June 2017)

Posted on: June 29th, 2017 by Simon Carter

Adam Smith once held the vague notion of becoming a policeman, or at least following some such legal career path, however this aspiration soon changed after young Adam earned some extra holiday cash washing up in a local restaurant.  Adam had caught the bug of kitchen life.  After a stint at Catering college, a moment of serendipity saw Chef John Williams MBE (on his first day after his move from Claridges to The Ritz) meet Adam for interview.  A ten year working love affair with The Ritz Hotel began, one that saw Adam rise through the ranks from commis to second in command in that large, driven and progressive brigade.  Today, he is to be found, drawing on all his vital chef experience, delivering on quality and consistency at Coworth Park Hotel, Dorchester Collection. Adam found time to interview with Simon Carter of fine dining guide, a chat which took place at Restaurant Coworth Park on Friday 11th June 2017.

Adam smith Coworth Park Chef

Describe the build up to becoming a professional chef including moments of inspiration.

As a youngster growing up on the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border I wanted to do something relating to the law. At about the age of fourteen I decided I wanted some weekend spending money. I found this local restaurant that was starting up and fibbed my way (said I was 16) into a washing up job in the kitchens. I very quickly fell in love with the whole buzz and atmosphere of the kitchen environment and the guy I was working with there was very helpful and suggested that I go to Birmingham College to further my knowledge of the culinary world.

My parents were naturally concerned that this might be a whim and that other options might be better for a career. My father in particular, spent a couple of months persuading me that academic studies were the right way forward. Suddenly, both my parents started to suffer with ill heath and decided to retire, so they sold up and moved to a narrow boat. It was at this time that their whole attitude changed and their ethos became that you must do what makes you happy!

What might be considered the key milestones and influencers in your career thus far?

I went to Birmingham College for a year and one of the lecturers there knew Mr Williams who was in the process of moving from Claridges to The Ritz. I went for an interview on Chef’s first day and got a job, started two weeks later and went on to do ten years in that kitchen – progressing from Second Commis to Executive Sous – it was an amazing place to be, an amazing place to work, an amazing place to learn and an amazing man to work for.

I still have very romantic visions of my time at The Ritz, the experience could not have done more for me with all the elements that I was fortunate enough to take on board. From breakfast through to lunch, afternoon tea through to dinner, the constant expectation of impeccable standards required became second nature through Mr Williams’ teaching (to this day I still call him Chef).

Over the years there were occasions when I thought it was time to move on and try something else but each time a new opportunity arose that showed me how much more I had to learn and develop. Now I am so grateful to have had that opportunity, reaching second in a brigade of 65 at an institution like The Ritz!

In 2012 I won the Roux Scholarship; The Roux family have always been ground breaking and have inspired so many chefs and like Mr Williams, provided unwavering development assistance to those up and coming. Just being part of that roll call is a great privilege; I’ve attended a couple of the study tours to New York and San Francisco and it’s so rewarding chatting to the likes of Andrew Fairlie, Sat Bains, Simon Hulstone, Mark Birchall and Andre Garrett – just to hear what they’re doing, their latest innovations or ingredients or simply their general outlook on life as a chef.

In 2012 I did some time in Yannick Alleno’s kitchen at Le Meurice in Paris. By Christmas I’d decided that I was ready to move, I had experienced the large brigade, 5 star luxury hotel institution and all the benefits that that had brought and wanted to try something very different. The Devonshire Arms in North Yorkshire, offered a small, hands-on team and provided the opportunity to quickly learn leadership and management skills.

Then the opportunity arose to move to Coworth Park, Dorchester Collection’s country house hotel and spa. This property offers the perfect blend of country house hotel with five star luxury, alongside the natural structure and support of being a part of a wider collection of hotels. The level of infrastructure essentially frees me up to do what I do best, in a beautiful setting, in the context of a platform that provides the ideal balance from previous learned experiences.

Coworth Park Exterior

It is so important to feel proud of where you work, to come in every day and not just feel that sense of pride but also the associated drive to aspire to please customers of a beautiful property. I take inspiration from Chef Williams for that perspective and ethos: Around 14 years ago, when I was still a commis, after one lunch service Mr Williams took the whole brigade upstairs to the dining room, he said people come here, to probably one of the most beautiful restaurant dining rooms in the world and the food we serve has to be as beautiful and elegant as this room. I actually get an essence of that feeling here at Coworth Park.

Dining Room RCW DCMoments

How would you describe your cuisine style?

The cuisine evolves, within the context of restraint, to not overwork something, especially with a dish that already works perfectly – if I’ve cooked a particular dish a hundred times or more I shouldn’t become restless, as it will be a dish that has probably become a signature that people want to see on the menu.

I’ve had great meals in many places from Yannick Alleno in Paris to a bouchon in Lyon; my outlook is to evolve a modern interpretation of classical cuisine based on the best possible ingredients producing dishes created with the most harmonious combinations that are consistently cooked to the highest standard. It is as simple as that, the older you get the more you appreciate that less can be more and that the classics are the classics for a reason!

We also have an excellent pastry chef here called Lucy Jones. Lucy and I worked together at The Ritz for six or seven years. We have an excellent mutual understanding of what each other can achieve, how we both work, and the type of offerings we like to see on the plate. The malt and hazelnut chocolate dessert is becoming a signature as it represents the perfect blend of refinement, skilful chocolate work but also when close your eyes and try it, it has a taste and texture sensation that is phenomenal.

What is the set up at Coworth Park in terms of staff numbers, restaurants, menus and opening hours?

Across the whole property we have 45 chefs to cover all outlets and food services, including Restaurant Coworth Park and The Barn. Our leading Restaurant Coworth Park currently has myself and a sous chef plus eight other chefs.

Restaurant Coworth Park is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and Friday through Sunday for lunch. The aim here is for consistency of customer demand matched by the consistency of our food offering. To achieve this we need consistency in the quality of product as well as relaxed, fresh and motivated kitchen and front of house staff – our current opening times facilitate this and help boost morale, staff retention and encourage motivation and passion to succeed.

This beautiful property also has The Barn for relaxed rustic dining and a delicious brasserie style menu. I would stress that this offering enjoys the same ‘Best of British’ quality ingredients that we insist upon in Restaurant Coworth Park. The food is presented in a different way for customers who don’t always want a tasting menu style of experience over a multi-night stay.

You are active on social media, what do you think of the various platforms?

Good. In our industry it is more important than ever for restaurant and chefs to see and be seen on these platforms. I see social media as a tool that works both ways; I like to put out there what we are doing and the more you can get people talking about what you are doing can only be a good thing. I also like to see what others are doing and keep up to date. I may for example, see somewhere that I’d like to try that I had perhaps not considered before. Social media can also propagate good news via retweets, likes and shares and this can also help raise the profile of what you are consistently trying to achieve.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

To make Coworth Park more of a destination restaurant than it is now. I am really loving my time here, the team are strong and together we’re moving forward. I can’t wait to see what will happen in the future.