Tom Shepherd, head chef, Adam's Restaurant

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th November 2017

Tom Shepherd is no stranger to a Michelin starred kitchen and in August this year, he was appointed head chef at Adam Stokes' eponymous restaurant in Birmingham.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Tom about working with two Michelin-starred chefs Michael Wignall and Sat Bains, his new challenge and evolving the menu at Adam's.

Adam Stokes and Tom Shepherd, chefs, Adam's Restaurant, Birmingham
Adam Stokes and Tom Shepherd

When did you decide that you wanted to become a chef?

It was quite a strange set up to be fair. I took a trainee manager’s course at New Hall Hotel in Walmley. I was eighteen and part of the course was to spend three months in a kitchen. The head chef there at the time was Wayne Thompson. He explained that the kitchen works on respect and said: “First things first, you are at the bottom of the pile – even if a potwasher says something to you, you f***ing do it!”

When I came in on the Monday morning I was a bit worried, but I wanted to try and enjoy it as much as I could and really get involved. By the end of the Saturday, I was helping out on larder and the commis left me to it! Wayne took me in the office afterwards and I told him I was loving every minute. After a month, I started to really get in to the zone and I felt it was coming quite naturally to me. Wayne said I should seriously consider it as a profession so he had a huge influence on my career. I discussed it with family; they were supportive and told me to go for it. I’ve never stepped out of a kitchen since that day! I believe I was clearly put on this planet to do something food related and I’m so happy that I’ve found my calling at a very young age. Not a lot of people can say that.

What advice would you have for a young person who has that interest but isn’t quite sure if they should follow it up as a career?

I’ve never been to college but a lot of people go and learn it through that route. The industry’s changed though. People are starting to look at cooking as a respected profession, which is fantastic. I’d say to any young person, regardless of if they want to be a chef or not, just follow what makes you happy. If you’re fortunate enough to find something that you’re good at, then do it. That’s your calling! Believe in yourself and have confidence.

Where did you work next? 

Condensed milk parfait, hazelnut praline,  English raspberries, honeycomb  by Tom Shepherd, head chef at Adam's restaurant, Birmingham

Condensed milk parfait, hazelnut praline,

English raspberries, honeycomb 

I wanted to keep improving and test myself, so I respectfully handed in my notice as Wayne was talking about getting his own restaurant and I too I wanted to move on. The Samling in the Lake District was new and it sounded super interesting. I hadn’t worked with Michelin starred chefs before so I went up for a trial. They offered me the junior sous role, which was quite good, getting a promotion off the back of it! Ian Swainson was the head chef at the time and we got a good relationship going quite quickly. In September, the sous chef left and I was promoted again.

There was just four of us in the kitchen, including me. It was a seven-day operation; breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were really pushing forward, driving for a Michelin star. It was my first experience in that type of kitchen and I was exhausted – working from seven in the morning until one o clock the following morning. It was so intense.

But I remember the day we got the star like it was yesterday. I was lying in bed and I got a phone call from the General Manager at 6:30 in the morning. He said: “One star, baby!” and I shot out of bed and drove straight to The Samling. I saw the team and burst into tears – there were all of these emotions and we’d all worked so hard. To this day, that’s still my highest achievement. At 23, being the sous chef at a one star restaurant was just an incredible feeling.

How did you get the job at The Latymer with Michael Wignall?

Ryan, the old sous from The Samling, knew a couple of guys at The Latymer. He asked me about my next move, and I said naturally I wanted to go to a two star restaurant! So he made a call to Peter Howarth, who invited me for a trial. I cooked a dish and I was absolutely shitting myself as I’d never done it before. Peter said it was one of the best trial dishes they’d ever eaten and I was ecstatic. They offered me a job and I did drop down in position to chef de partie but I wasn’t there to prove a point, I wanted to go in and learn as much as possible. Michael is unique and very driven, I respect him a lot. We had a very strong team but if anyone needed help, he would be there. When he offered me the position of sous at the end of the year, I bit his hand off! I worked there for a further eight months.

Roast wild halibut, broad beans, sea beet and lovage by Tom Shepherd, head chef at Adam's Restaurant, Birmingham

Roast wild halibut, broad beans,

sea beet and lovage

How did you get the job with Sat Bains?

I was 26 and I’d taken a couple of months off before my next move. I wanted to refine my skills and test myself and I saw an Instagram post from Sat, that said: “We want to work with someone who can extract as much flavour as possible out of every single ingredient”. I bit the bullet and emailed him and he replied the next day, inviting me for a trial.

On the second day of the trial, John [Freeman] asked me to do lunch for him, Sat and Reuben (the sous chef at the time). He wanted me to create three dishes based on what they had in the restaurant. I didn’t particularly want to do what was already on the menu – I wanted to give them something different. I dug through the freezer and I found a whole smoked eel so I made a broth, braising it with apple and watercress. Then I walked up Lenton Lane and I picked a load of brambles. The dessert was a whipped lemon curd with sweetened brambles, a sable biscuit and nitro brambles on top. When the three of them were sat there, I was shaking like a shitting dog! John was facing me - he took a spoonful of the dessert and smiled from ear to ear. He said that I had produced three spanking dishes and Sat offered me the job there and then.

Can you tell us more about The Development Kitchen (with Adam Degg)?

My girlfriend Charlotte and I moved back to St Albans and Adam was finishing up at the Chiltern Firehouse at the same time. We’d been friends for years and discussed doing a few pop-ups. We started up The Development Kitchen in January and contacted Adam Handling to start with, as we were quite close. He said we could take over his restaurant, The Frog for a couple of days and we were sold out both nights. We did another pop-up at a Peruvian restaurant called Chicama. They had a development kitchen downstairs and a table of twelve opposite. We ran for three days and it did quite well.

Info bar

Dream restaurant – 

A relaxed restaurant that’s not too large, enabling the customer to comfortably enjoy the experience. It would definitely be in the UK, perhaps around Birmingham would be the plan but the product needs to suit the location so we’ll see.

Dream brigade -

I’m going to say chefs that I’ve worked with. A guy called Kieron Stevens who’s going to Benu in the New Year. He’s got passion in abundance.

Adam Degg, my best mate and the best pastry chef I’ve ever worked with.

Peter Howarth at The Samling – he’s the best meat and fish cook I’ve ever seen.

Paul Proffitt from Henne in Denmark – he’s phenomenal and he’s got a heart of gold.

John Freeman - he’s incredible. A lovely, supportive character and it would be a privilege.

Kirk Haworth too – I only worked with him for a few months but talent-wise, he’s way up there. 

How did you meet Adam Stokes?

After the pop-ups, Adam (Degg) was approached by Tom Kerridge to be group executive pastry chef at The Hand & Flowers group and in the same week I was approached by Adam Stokes via Twitter, who I’d met years previously. He was evolving things at Adam’s and wanted to chat about me working there. He cooked me lunch and explained he was looking for someone to help him to evolve the restaurant. It’s a phenomenal restaurant and it was just perfect. I started in August and I haven’t taken my foot off the gas since!

Herdwick Lamb, confit lemon, goats curd and onions by Tom Shepherd, head chef at Adam's Restaurant, Birmingham

Herdwick Lamb, confit lemon,

goats curd and onions

What are your daily responsibilities in your role? 

I’ve been brought in to run and develop the kitchen. But I couldn’t just come in all guns blazing, so I’ve been working closely with the team, familiarising myself with their positions. They’ve been so accepting and responsive - I couldn’t have asked for a better team. The food’s changed, I’ve put my mark on it. We’re producing seasonal, flavour-led food and I’m at the forefront of designing those dishes. Me and Adam test them together but I’m responsible for looking after the team and making sure that food goes out is up to standard.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu?

My favourite dish at the moment is the veal sweetbread with mushroom ketchup and shiitake tea. We poach and then deep fry the sweetbreads then serve them with an acidic shitake puree, raw button mushrooms, dried cep powder and Westlands mushroom leaf.

Adams Restaurant, Birmingham
Adam's, Birmingham

It’s really rich in umami and tastes incredible. The shiitake tea is vegetarian and it’s served in a little cup on the side. You drink it while you eat the dish. Adam loved it when he was tasting it but he wasn’t sure if they were ready for it upstairs! The guests are absolutely loving it so far though.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m back home with my family very close and from my point of view, this is the start of my head chef profession but a finishing school for me too. Pushing on and developing Adam’s will give me the confidence and belief in myself. Working with Adam, I’ve got the support to make and develop my own food in my own style.

I won’t stop until we’re at a level where we can look back and see that evolution, whether that comes in the form of accolades or not. Then I’ve always had dreams of opening my own restaurant, using the experience I’ve gained over my career.

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th November 2017

Tom Shepherd, head chef, Adam's Restaurant