Adam Smith was appointed executive chef at Restaurant Coworth Park in 2016, joining from his role as head chef at The Devonshire Arms where he started in 2013 overseeing all food operations including The Burlington Restaurant, Devonshire Brasserie, and conference and banqueting.
From 2004 to 2013, Adam worked under chef John Williams at The Ritz, rising from second commis to executive sous chef. In 2012 he was awarded Observer Food Monthly Young Chef of the Year and won the Roux Scholarship, with Michel Roux senior calling him ‘one to watch’. In 2015 Adam was made Craft Guild of Chefs Restaurant Chef of the Year.
He picked up his first Michelin star at Restaurant Coworth Park in 2017 and has kept this coveted accolade ever since.
We sat down with the Michelin-starred chef to discuss his cooking style, culinary inspirations and how lockdown restrictions affected the restaurant.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
My passion for cooking really began after a summer job at a local village restaurant and I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a chef. I had a love for classical cooking, and have been fortunate enough to work in some of the best kitchens. A highlight in my career was winning the Roux Scholarship, it opened so many doors. Equally, being awarded a Michelin star is always a goal for any chef, so I’m very proud that we have been able to achieve that for Restaurant Coworth Park.
Over the past five years we’ve worked very hard and built a strong reputation for the restaurants in the hotel. I’ve always felt it was important to look after the teams in my kitchen and front of house, and I’ve worked with some of my team for nearly 10 years. I’m really proud of that – it’s the team you have around you that gives you the strength to keep improving what you do.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
The first thing that made me think seriously about becoming a chef was the atmosphere and comradery in my first part time job. I felt part of a team for the first time and felt like I had found something I was acutely good at. It all grew from there.
Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?
John Williams MBE has been the biggest influence on my career to date. A giant in the industry, and a true leader, chef helped shape not only my thoughts and style of cooking but, I think most importantly, my people management skills.
What’s your signature dish?
When I cook, it’s not about what I want, but what the guest wants: I get just as much enjoyment cooking for my Nan – who loves roast beef cooked to death – as cooking for the guests in the restaurant who enjoy caviar and crab. But I think my signature dish would be caviar tart – it will never leave our menu and really encompasses the best of British ingredients we always strive to have, whilst also being incredibly luxurious.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Does it taste good? It’s simple but that is the most important consideration. We make sure we can achieve absolute consistency; we try to achieve a balance across the menu while still showcasing our cooking style and some of the best ingredients around.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
Yes absolutely, a dish will only make it to the menu if I like it, cooking is totally subjective, and I feel the best way to build your own style is by cooking food you would love to eat.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I would say our cooking style is modern British, based on the classics, showcasing the best of British and locally sourced ingredients. I find it difficult to encase everything we do in one style, ultimately, I don’t what to pigeonhole myself and what we do.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
I love late summer and early autumn; I always look forward to the first grouse of the year. I like this time because you have so many ingredients around, the last of the summer vegetables, wild mushrooms have started and of course grouse!
What is your favourite ingredient to create with?
I am a big lover of shellfish – I love giving my guests food that I personally enjoy, so shellfish is almost always on the menu at Coworth Park.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
When I was younger, I actually wanted to go into law, which obviously my parents were very keen on. When I told my dad I wanted to be a chef, he wasn’t best pleased, but now he’s on board with it. Really, you just have to do what you love.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Roast chicken dinner is a favourite of mine and my two children, a true staple in our house.
When are you happiest?
Being in the kitchen is my happy place where I can forget about the outside world, having said that I treasure time together with my children.
What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
A bit of a cliché but it has to be my knives. It goes without saying but a good knife is fundamental to cooking. If I was to say something a little less predictable it would be the Rational VCC, an amazing piece of kit that is extremely versatile.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
I have two children who take up a lot of my time when I’m not working. I also really enjoy motorcycling, and like most people, keeping up to date with sport.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
I love Thai and Asian food as a takeaway, and I could eat roast chicken every day of the week. But really, I just love simple foods and amazing ingredients.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
I’m lucky to have eaten in many great restaurants, but the place I go back to a lot is a humble country pub called the Haymakers, near to where I live, the food is simple but it’s just cosy and comfortable.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
I think with all trends they start as an inspired idea of a small group of people that believe in what they are doing, but what happens over time is it gets diluted as people copy it for the sake of it.
What do your future plans entail?
We are going to continue building our reputation at Coworth Park for being a culinary destination, continually focusing on improving our guest experience. I want to put us on the culinary map in the UK for being one of the best at what we do!
How have the lockdown restrictions affected your work?
Lockdown was a tough time for everyone, however like many situations in life I look to the positive, so for the first time in my career we had weeks/months to spend time just developing new dishes and simply playing around with new ideas. We also took the time to think about how we work and restructured the sections in the kitchen, which has been a great success.
What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?
One big benefit is freshness which shouldn’t be underestimated, a herb or vegetable picked that day will taste totally different to one picked a week before.
How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking the ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?
We don’t change the menu in one go, we always change it dish by dish, this enables a smooth transition for both front of house and kitchen team. The process always starts with a great ingredient we want to use, that could be something just coming into season or a totally new product or supplier we haven’t used before. We involve the whole team when we create new dishes; one of the great things about a team is that everybody has different experiences and ideas. Some things work relatively quickly, and others get scrapped and we start again, the process is different every time.
How would you describe the food you create at Restaurant Coworth Park to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?
I would say our food is visually elegant, bold in flavour, showcasing the best of British ingredients all grown and developed from fundamental classical techniques.
What’s your favourite flavour combination?
One I love is lovage with black truffle, that with a beautiful piece of turbot is fantastic.
What is the USP of your restaurant?
I think the people of Coworth Park is what makes it so special. The front of house as well as back of house are always familiar faces for the guests and we strive to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere at the restaurants. The people that work here ensure that we create a friendly while still luxurious experience. I’ve had experiences in world class restaurants where the environment is so stiff that I’ve left not wanting to return, despite how wonderful the food is. Our restaurant pushes to create a warm environment for our guests to enjoy amazing food and do so while feeling comfortable.