Adam Gray, Rhodes 24, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th October 2008

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Adam Gray, head chef of Rhodes 24, is The Staff Canteen's featured chef this month.

Adam Gray

Adam is Head Chef at Rhodes 24 in the heart of the busy city district.

Adam heads a team of 15-chefs, and works closely with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes in creating a modern British focused menu, built around quality seasonal British produce. Adam's CV boasts a host of some of the finest operations including the Four Seasons and Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, with valid international experience gained in Australia. Adam has been with Gary for over eight years and currently holds a Michelin star at Rhodes 24. Adam, what made you decide to become a chef? "I think it was probably more chance that I became a chef. I was working in a pub washing pots and felt that cooking was something I wanted to try. It was not something that since the age of ten I had always wanted to do" So it wasn't a case that your mother was a great cook? "No, my mother is a good cook but it certainly wasn't the case that from the age of three I went truffle hunting or roamed the forest looking for Guinea Fowl. It was something that I seemed to fall into and seemed to be quite good at" So did you study at college? complete an apprenticeship? - How did you train? "I did a three year apprenticeship with a one day release a week, which I felt, at the time, was the best option to take." What about today, if you were just leaving college what do you feel offers the best training to future chefs? "I feel the best option is to spend a year at a good college - get your NVQ1, get a basic understanding of hygiene, knife skills and a basic foundation - then look for day release." "I think with day release you can earn money and you can develop a lot quicker and therefore you are more advanced than say spending three years at college on a course with no industry placements attached." What are you looking for now when people apply to you for a position? "I am looking for enthusiasm as the main thing and passion. The basic skills I can teach but without passion and enthusiasm it's almost a non-starter." "People have to have a real passion to become a chef and I feel that a lot of candidates are often unsure of what they want to do and look to catering as an easy option" "It doesn't matter at what level you cook - whether it is Michelin star or pub, you need enthusiasm to create good simple well executed food." Adam, what was your next step after completing your apprenticeship? What was your next move? "I decided that I needed to leave my local area" Where are you from? "Originally I come from a small village in Northampton, but after passing my car test felt that London was the place to go and work" And where was your first job in London? "My first job in London was the English Garden which has closed down now." "It was a small 50-60 cover restaurant and I worked there for three or four months, until I got a position with Bruno Loubert at the Four Seasons on Park Lane - one Michelin star and I knew that I had made the right choice." It seems very apparent to me that there are two types of chef one is the restaurant chef; the other a hotel chef - do feel that's true? "Yes very much so, but it was a very good time to work at the Four Seasons as although we worked in the restaurant we were still very much part of the hotel brigade and there were times when we worked in banqueting and did work as a team." "There is a slight difference in mentality also added pressure. The restaurant chef has more pressure food wise and guests are there purely for the food, where as a hotel chef has pressure across a number of outlets. I think that the organisation skills of a hotel chef are better." "I would strongly recommend experiencing both, certainly when I was Head Chef at The Chelsea Hotel it was very much about being organised, which now I pride myself on the kitchens being organised here." I think that is very true of a lot of the Michelin star chefs who, lets face it, are fantastic cooks but often their organisational skills are not the strongest. "I feel that it is important to work in a variety of operations from restaurant through to hotel, working banqueting" Breakfast? "Absolutely, you should see as many things as possible. You can't just focus on 50-60 cover Michelin star restaurant. It is good to challenge yourself outside of this. This helps you become versatile, it helps you understand all ingredients - not just the luxury items and develop good business sense" After the Four Seasons where did you go from there? "Australia - it was something that I have always wanted to do. I had done three and half years with Bruno, I had made Chef-de-Partie and I had covered every section and a friend of mine who had been Sous Chef at the Four Seasons opened a restaurant." "The restaurant was in Melbourne and in our first year we won best restaurant in Melbourne" Is the restaurant still there? "No the owner fell ill, had heart problems through the pressure of the work, it was very hard, very tough - it was just the two of us in the kitchen" "We made everything in house from bread to pasta and so on and then washing the pots up after service" What happened when you came back? "I went to the Manior, I knew I wanted to cook at Michelin star level, so I wrote a list of the best restaurants and applied to the Manior. Obviously Bruno had been Head Chef and introduced me to Clive Fretwell, went for the interview and a trial. Ended up staying two and half years" And do you feel that was one of the turning points of your career? "Of course, palette wise very much so. It was drummed into us to understand flavour combinations, textures and how things should go together." "I had learnt a lot at the Four Seasons about products, ingredients, costing and this was something different" "Also the Manior is not a small operation, you have the rooms, the cookery school, parties, breakfast so again I learnt to be organised and to know I lasted there two and half years, at the time we had twenty chefs - I think there's a lot more now so it was very tough" "We would do ten day straights, 14-18 hour days, the pay was not that good - it was tough, but to achieve what I achieved was great. I had covered every section. I left with a great reference and on very good terms" A Fantastic property for your CV "Oh sure" Where was your next move? "After the Manior I really needed a break and took a position in the Caribbean as a consultant at Coral Reef Club in Barbados" I know the property from my time at Cobblers Cove "I went there for six-months - took a break from the UK. I worked hard but was able to relax. I was still in touch with Bruno Loubert he heard of an opening at the Chelsea Hotel" So you would say that it's important to keep contact with people that you have worked for? "Yeah, I think that all too often chefs burn their bridges, they can be a little fiery and leave under a cloud, and it's good to keep civil with everybody. You never know when you may need someone in the future" Adam we are sat here on the 42nd floor of what was the Natwest Tower, how did your introduction to Gary Rhodes come about? "I was working at Chez restaurant at the time and one of my commis was keen to work for Gary so I called City Rhodes and spoke with the Head Chef who was happy to interview the guy and during the conversation told me that he was due to leave shortly and did I know of anyone?" "I sent off my application and met with Gary, Gary then contacted Bruno to get a reference for me which came back good" "I started as Head Chef at City Rhodes on January 1st." And you have been with Gary for what eight years now? "Yes" Ok, obviously in that time your role and the company have changed dramatically, how many do you have in your brigade now? "I've got a team of 15-chefs. We do 90-lunches and 90-dinners - we are booked out three months in advance, now we have a private room and small banqueting for up to 200-covers" I think one of the things that has always impressed me here, Adam, is that you have very good staff retention - why do you feel that is? "I think that it's very much that we treat them well and that I very much lead from the front, I would never ask any of my team to do something that I would not do." "I treat my team as individuals not as a number. I try to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, some people respond differently than others." "I try to explain things to people rather than shouting or simply just telling them, for example why basil goes with tomato and olive. I encourage them to challenge things and not to just accept things" "I think also that weekends off is a great bonus, the guys do work very hard Monday to Friday but they know that come Saturday they will be off." "I think that we also pay well, which is important when you are asking a lot from people." It is still very hard work though Adam. "For sure, the guys arrive at 7am and they may well get an hour off in the afternoon if they are set." "And I think that's another thing I try and treat them like adults if they are set then they take a break. I give them the responsibility" Adam what motivates you? You are Head Chef of one the UK most famous Michelin star restaurants, you have had exposure through the TV with Hell's Kitchen - what makes you get out of bed every morning at 6am? "To maintain what I have achieved. I am very proud of the fact that we re-gained the star (Michelin guide) after we moved, as you know if you move you lose the star and you have to work to get it back." "I work closely with Gary on menus but it is very much me that drives this operation on a daily basis. I motivate the team; I work with the guys and control the quality of the food across the operation. It really is about the team and I am very proud of that." "I want to be the best - that really drives me, it is important that we keep the restaurant busy we are here to make money. Food quality is paramount we are not striving for two Michelin, we are fairly high volume and maintaining the standard is very important." Adam what advice would you give to someone who is just starting in the industry and who maybe looks up to you and wants to follow in your footsteps? "I think that it is important that people are realistic. There is no fast track way to the top." Do you think that the so called celebrity chef has helped with that or not? "I think that in many ways it has opened up our industry and gained valuable exposure but the down side is everybody wants to be Gordon (Ramsay) or Jamie Oliver at nineteen - which is impossible." "You have to be very committed. Be prepared to make sacrifices, your social life is virtually going to be non-existent, but if you work hard and stay focused you will get there in the end." "I personally believe that what ever industry you are in you have to work hard and work harder than others to make it to the top. What ever industry you look at the people at the top of their vocation work incredibly hard at what they do." "It is important that you put in 110% and my philosophy is that what ever you put in you will be able to take out and reap the rewards." "It will not be easy and it takes ten-fifteen years before you get something out." Adam, what are you looking for when you interview someone? "I look for hunger and passion. I look for someone who knows why they want to be chef, someone who knows that they want to be the best and someone who is prepared to work hard at it." "All of my guys in the kitchen want to be there. We have a young team with an average age of 22, but all of them are there because they want to be the best - I encourage them." Adam last but by no means least you lecture at Northampton College, why? "Probably something similar to what you are trying to do and I'm trying to give something back to the industry, I want to show that someone from a small town can make to the top - can be successful and give the college my support." Adam please accept my sincere thanks for your time today, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. "Thank you!"

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th October 2008

Adam Gray, Rhodes 24, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH