'Classical cooking may not be trendy or cool but that's what I believe in'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th December 2019

Adam Smith is the executive chef at Coworth Park. 

John Williams OBE's protege and 2012 Roux Scholar spent ten years working at The Ritz before moving onto The Devonshire Arms.

The chef truly came into his own at Coworth, which he describes as 'a perfect blend' between The Ritz and The Devonshire arms - a luxury-five star environment in which he can still be a hands-on executive chef. And, within a year of him joining the team, the hotel restaurant earned a much-coveted Michelin star.

Two years later, we spoke to Adam about his love for classic cuisine, from heritage and history to the pursuit of perfection, and what ingredient-led cooking really means. 

 

Caviar tart, Cornish crab, yuzu, cucumber

 

How do you create the perfect plate of food? 

Adam doesn't deny that creating the dishes that helped him become a Roux scholar took a lot of skill, thought and understanding of classical techniques, but, he stressed, "with all cooking you have to be true to yourself, you have to believe in what you're doing.

"That should be true of any chef in any restaurant because you want your guests to enjoy your food."

And of course, he said, "there's a degree of luck."

"In the finals a dish came up which I'd done the technique for before so I was familiar with the technique."

 

 

Why classical cuisine gets a bad rep 

Moving up the ranks at The Ritz, Adam was bound to classical techniques and flavours, but, he explained, "it's something that I became more passionate and obsessed about."

"I think sometimes when you talk about classical cooking, people turn their nose up, saying it's old fashioned. But it's not about that, it's about proper cooking, cooking things well. All the top chefs, no matter how modern their cuisine is, most of the time you'll find that the heritage lies in classical techniques. 

"Making a great sauce, cooking a bisque, cooking techniques for fish and meat, you have to have an understanding of the classics to be able to do that. 

What's on the menu at Coworth Park?

"I'm not embarrassed to put my head up and say that's what we do, classical cooking, because more often than not, maybe it's not trendy and maybe it's not cool but that's what I do and I believe in and I think all good chefs stick to what they believe in and what they enjoy cooking."

And, the chef argues, just like in fashion, history repeats itself in food. 

"I find those things fascinating: books, heritage, chefs of the past and history in general.

"It's always great to look back and to be inspired for things in the future. You can quite often take inspiration from the past that can bring something new, that you can evolve and make it relevant to the modern day guest. 

Plus, no matter what kind of chef you are, he said, if you're a good chef, you strive to perfection - something only a strong classical grounding allows. 

"For me it's about tomorrow being better than I am today and today I'm better than I was yesterday, hopefully. 

"That's the mindset - that continuum of evolution of your own style and your own quality." 

St Honore, Caramelised Puff Pastry, Choux, Vanilla

What is ingredient-led food? 

One of the great things about working somewhere like Coworth is that - just like all chefs - Adam can find great suppliers for all of his ingredients, but he can also seek out the very best luxury ingredients, too. 

And though seasonality drives quality, locality doesn't always prime. 

"For me it's about finding great ingredients and having the best ingredients we can get our hands on," he said.

"Sometimes that happens to be on the estate, sometimes it happens to be local and other times it happens that we have to go a bit further afield."

What's more, he said, quality isn't always the expensive things: "I get just as excited about getting a beautiful cauliflower through the back door which can be very local to that beautiful truffle that's come from Italy or France or Spain.

"Being able to go from the bottom up and source the best carrots that you need for your stock and sauce, the best meat products, as well as at the other end, your white truffles that might be at the other end of the scale."

And although it is often said that "less is more," the chef doesn't limit himself to a set number of ingredients on a plate.

"It's about what makes something work, sometimes you need to add something for a different texture or acidity, it depends."

This applies to the restaurant's iconic caviar tart, which is on the menu year-round, with different herb and flower garnishes.

"Actually, though it's quite simple to the eye, when you break it down, the elements there become more."

Venison, parsnip, vadouvan, blackcurrant

On the importance of constance

Many chefs go through their careers changing locations often, this is not something Adam wishes to do.

He explained: "This industry can be quite tough but it's a labour of love, you have to love it, you have to enjoy it, you have to be passionate about what you're cooking and the place where you work. 

"I've effectively found that at Coworth. Something just clicked and I feel I'm actually very lucky because I think some people get through their whole career and never quite find that."

The chef argues that by doing things this way, he is building longevity in his career.

"It's so important to build that confidence and pride in what you do. That helps you deal with the tough days and the challenges that you may face." 

The work he is doing now, he hopes will be the foundation of a happy and prosperous future for the team at Coworth, and, he hopes, will earn its place in history. 

"All the best restaurants that are out there and have been around for a long time - it takes a long time to build that. And that's what we hope to continue."

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th December 2019

'Classical cooking may not be trendy or cool but that's what I believe in'