Adam Byatt, Chef Patron, Trinity Restaurant, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th December 2010
Adam Byatt is the chef patron of Trinity, a restaurant in Clapham, London. The restaurant opened in 2006 and has three AA rosettes. It serves seasonal, British cuisine. Adam was inspired to become a chef by his grandfather, who was a cook in the army, and his mother, who was a professionally trained chef. He trained at college in Bournemouth, while also doing an apprenticeship with the Academy of Culinary Arts at Claridge’s hotel in London. With the head chef, he moved to the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, following this with time at the Square restaurant in Mayfair. During this time the restaurant won its second Michelin star and Adam was promoted to sous chef.  After this he was head chef at the Worx, Philip Howard’s restaurant in Fulham. The two worked together to form the café concept ‘Jus’, but folded the business shortly afterwards. Undeterred, in 2001 he set up his own restaurant, Thyme, in Clapham. The restaurant won various Restaurant of the Year awards and was a success, but the business closed in 2005. A year later Adam opened Trinity. In 2010 he published a cookbook with recipes designed to be cooked at home called How to Eat In. Adam, thank you for your time today, please give us a brief on Trinity and your role within, the operation. Trinity has been alive and kicking now for four and a half years, we employ twenty four staff across the business, that's 7-8 in the kitchen. We are a 7-day a week operation, although we close Sunday night and Monday lunch. We are open from Midday on Sunday through to five pm. Monday mornings are used to deep clean, to stock take, and even to give the building a rest. Trinity is a fifty seven cover restaurant - Most nights are full and weekend evenings we cater for between 70 / 80 people. Are you open for lunch? Yes, we open for lunch, we always knew that lunch would never be a massive draw, but we regularly do twenty covers for lunch during mid week and are building up to 30/50 Friday and Saturday. Lunch is competitive though, you compete against the high street? Yes we do, but also there is little or no commerce here, so we are really reliant on locals and passing trade, however across the week we will normally cater for between 550/600 guests. Also opening lunch allows us to operate a business model that works flexible shift patterns, some early's, some late's as well as a double's, I'm still a great believer in getting all of your mis-en-place done in the morning, that's certainly the way I've always worked, and it's the way we operate here at Trinity. Are you sole owner of Trinity, Adam? No, it's a partnership. It's 50/50, my business partner is Angus Jones, I work in the business; I think it's unfair to say that Angus is a silent partner, as he contributes an awful lot to the business, but he's not in the operation on a day to day basis. Is Angus an entrepreneur? Is he from a restaurant background? He is an entrepreneur; he's also a very bright man. He owns the building that we are in "˜the Polygon', and has had a restaurant here for ten years. Angus was also a founder of Smith's of Smithfield in the beginning, but no longer has a business interest there. I approached Angus about a partnership and we came up with what we both believed to be an equitable deal for both of us. It allows me to be in control of my own destiny, and that was important for me to be allowed the freedom to operate the business. I use Angus as a sounding board and he channels through me the parameters that allow us to operate successfully and efficiently. He has also taught me a lot and allowed me the space to grow outside of the kitchen which is important for my own stimulation. It obviously works very well for you? It works very well.   Adam , if you had to pigeon hole your food style how would you describe it? It's really difficult to simply pigeon hole it, I think you have to look a little further back and understand a little about my background. I spent five years being classically trained, by the Academy of Culinary Arts. I was John Williams recently at the Ritz. John was really my culinary "˜father' so to speak, my first five years cooking I was classically trained at Claridges. I then moved to The Square, which is very modern British Modern European. I like elements from France and Spain, but I champion British produce, and British cooking. Yes, I may have a ravioli on the menu, but it's British cooking. You mentioned John Williams and Phil (Howard) two huge names very different backgrounds, how did they influence you? At Claridges, you are very much a part of a process, you're in a team of eighty to ninety chefs. John Williams taught me how to be a Chef; how to respect people; how to respect the hierarchy and how to value and respect the ingredients. John Williams, for me, was and still is one of the best Chefs on the stoves. Give that man ingredients and he will produce something outstanding, he has an amazing palette, I left John at twenty one. I still had a lot to learn as a cook. Phillip Howard taught me how to cook, so you have two contrasts that don't really cross over. I haven't worked for a huge amount of different Chefs, I think I really adopted Phil's food style, as for me it simply made so much sense, it was just right. It was like walking into a house; a clothes store anywhere and just getting that "yes" gut feeling - that is what happened to me at The Square. I never tired of the cooking at the Square. The restaurant evolved and developed as did the food, we moved from one to two stars, but I loved every day. Phil's philosophy and approach was amazing, it was very simple and very respectful of the produce. When I was with John Williams I was part of a large team, part of the process, within a chain of events that influenced the customer's food. You may blanch the spinach, you may chime the bones on a rack of lamb, peel and slice the potatoes, but it's unlikely that you'll cook or work on the complete elements of the whole dish. At the Square with Phil Howard, I arrived and I was put on a section. I was given a box of Girolles, some Teals , and a bunch of Rosemary and told to get on with it, and I did. It was very much at that point, that I made up my mind that I wanted my own restaurant. Actually running a restaurant is a huge leap - bills to pay, and a whole host of things that are thrown at you that perhaps you don't see when running a section. How has running a restaurant changed you, as a Chef and as person? I think it really shapes you as a person, I think that I'm a better cook for understanding the business and the model that we run, but also I think being a cook has made me a better business man. Yes, of course running a business is very different from just being part of another business. Of course, I would love to go home, turn off my phone, take the weekend off, spend more time with my children, but I'm sure that perhaps people who have that but are bogged down in politics, would crave the freedom I have of being my own boss. We always seem to want something we don't have. But I know that this is the only way that I can work. I think as a cook it makes you focus financially, but for me it's seventy five percent of a Head Chefs role to be challenging the margins. I've no formal business training, other than my cooking qualifications. I think that's true of a lot of Chefs though, Adam. Yes, it is true of a lot of Chefs, but I'm running a successful business right now, I'm delivering good results, we are making money, we have happy customers, and we are retaining staff. That's very important. Yes, hugely important and the way we do that is through having five managers - a head chef, a restaurant manager, beverage manager, reception manager, and sous chef. We have a weekly management meeting; I take council from them; I look to them for input and ideas; I lead them; I motivate them; and I hope that I inspire them. All of the five managers started at the grass roots of the business. They have all been with me at least four years - some up to seven. They were all here when we opened and some have worked with me previously, and I put the success of this restaurant down to those people and the longevity of them. All the team know what we are working towards; what the standards are; what their role and the parameters of their role is. It's down to me to set those standards; how hard we are going to work; how we respect each other; what the customer expectations are and the team are then responsible for managing that delivery downwards and across. Adam, you mentioned the success of Trinity, but I wonder how do you measure success? Is it through profit or accolades, as I understand that you been voted in the top ten London restaurants in the Harden Guide? Yes, that was an amazing result for us, to achieve that result and that listing in what is a small restaurant was a huge success. We've achieved through growth, good old fashion organic growth, through hard work, taking this restaurant from four walls to 1-1-2 in Harden's Guide; Three AA rosettes, but most importantly, for me, is that we (Trinity) are doing 20% more business today, than when we first opened four years ago, and we increased incrementally, by almost 8% each year. I measure the success of the business on repeat customers. Of course, measuring your business on the bottom line is paramount to staying afloat, but if this is your sole focus then you're looking in the wrong direction. If your customers are returning you'll have a successful business and be around for a number of years. Adam, what dish on your current menu, best describes you as a Chef? I think it would have to be the "Pigs Trotter".Ok, because? It's been on the menu since we opened, but also it's the most popular, and it's delicious, for me the dish has a slight surprise element to it, it's perhaps not quite what you expect. Has the dish changed in four years? It's actually changed very little. That's the sign of a good dish, though surely? Yes, it's become slightly more refined as we've grown in our roles and the business. The dish delivers every week, we had a very high profile two star Chef eat that dish, and said "Never take that dish off". Adam, last but by no means least, other than Trinity, what are your favourite local restaurant? Oh favourite restaurants"¦"¦If local is London. Yes, as a non Londoner, I will allow the whole of London to be local. There are so many. Sure, but if you and your wife had one night to grab dinner, where would be top of your list? Sometimes St John, but Roka for me is amazing, it's completely different to what I do. Is that why it appeals to you, because it's so different from what you do? Yes, I'm tasting my food all the time. Roka is very different to what I do, so eating something different"¦ Otherwise it becomes a bus-man's holiday. Yes it does, but I've also had some great meals recently at Giorgio Locatelli, Polpo. I was very lucky to go to Noma, a few months back. What are your thoughts on Noma? It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best meal that I've ever had in my life, and at thirty-six, I never thought that I would be that blown away, and have an experience that was so far outside of the box. It really inspired me. I've been lucky enough to eat in about eight three stars, I know Noma is not a three star, but it was better than any three star that I've eaten in. Noma for me is not trying to be something that it's not, there is no smoke and mirrors, it's just amazing ingredients treated with the ultimate respect. Noma also doesn't conform to the rule book. The day I dined there, there was no receptionist, no Sommelier, no table clothes. The service is outstanding; it is relaxed informal, not at all pretentious. I find there are some London restaurants where the service, for me, is too pretentious and it's almost intimidating. Yes and I think that style of restaurant and service, has a shelf life. To see what Rene has achieved at Noma is inspiring. Adam, thank you for your time today, it's been great to meet with you, I wish you continued success with Trinity. No - Thank you
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th December 2010

Adam Byatt, Chef Patron, Trinity Restaurant, London