THE STAFF CANTEEN
Adam Simmonds, Danesfield House, Marlow
Michelin-starred chef, Adam Simmonds, enters his seventh year at Danesfield House this year and on January 28 Adam will be launching his online cookbook AS The Book through his website www.adamsimmonds.com. Adam speaks to Louise Thomas about the importance of seasonality and produce in his dishes. And how, like a good whisky, he’s improved with age.
You come from a classically trained background, having worked at Le Gavroche, The Ritz, The Halkin and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons among others, but you use very modern and innovative cooking methods.
How would you describe your food style?
My food is still rooted in classic cooking as far as flavours and flavour combinations are concerned.
I use modern techniques to enhance the flavours and textures of the dishes. Times change, we don’t make heavy sauces, but we still use classical techniques to make certain elements, purées and so on, but the modern techniques, like the water bath and other cooking methods, help us get the best from the flavours. We have to move on with the kit that becomes available to us in the kitchen, but flavour is first and foremost to what we do at Danesfield.
What kit do you have in your kitchen and how are you using them in your dishes?
We use a centrifuge to extract flavour. Previously, we’ve made a parsley purée in the normal way – blanch it, blend it – and then put it in a centrifuge.
By doing this, it splits it so the purée comes to the top and the water sinks to the bottom, which gives us a really pure, clean flavour. It was then incorporated into a garlic purée for the beef dish we had on last summer. We make a tarragon oil, following the same method as the parsley purée. After it’s been spun in the centrifuge we have an intense flavoured oil that we use to make a sweet mayonnaise on the tarragon, buttermilk, orange dessert at the moment.
We’ve recently started using a Primo BBQ as well. We cold-smoke pigeons over cherry woodchips in the Primo BBQ for 30-45 minutes; they then go in the water bath for 15-20 minutes before we roast them off. But you have to do it from cold, so the pigeons take on the smokiness. You can hot-smoke things too, obviously, but we found it was better to smoke the pigeons cold and to allow us to cook them to order.
Some may argue that these more modern cooking methods are a passing fad or a shortcut for lazy chefs; do you feel there is longevity in these ways of cooking and how do these cooking techniques benefit you?
People that know me know I’m certainly not a lazy chef! Yes, they can be classed as gimmicky or a boys’ toy in the kitchen, but everything that we do at Danesfield is focused purely on flavour – the centrifuge gives us the ability to extract those flavours.
We use a water bath for consistency. I know if I put a pigeon, and one is bigger than the other, I know the cooking temperature will be the same; we then probe them to make sure the core temperature is the same before we roast it. It alleviates any issues for me. I don’t think it’s deskilling my chefs; I think it’s helping them. They know how to roast the pigeon in the oven and what to look for, but, at the level we’re cooking at, I need it to be consistent
You’ve been at Danesfield House for 6 years now. Your food looks quite different today then it did when you first arrived, or to what you were doing previously at Ynyshir Hall.
How do you feel your food has evolved and what has been your reasoning behind this?
I’ve matured. I’m not so anal about the way things go on a plate; it’s more natural, it’s more organic. This allows me to be more relaxed about the way we serve it, which in turn makes it a happier environment for the boys to work in. But also gone are the days where you put streaks and lines on a plate; a line of purée only gives the customer so much of that flavour on the plate. The way I dress it now allows me to give the customer less or more of something in a way that compliments the other components of the dish.
What’s your signature dish in your restaurant? Which is your best selling dish? How long have these dishes featured on your menu?
The way we cook, being guided by the seasons, means I don’t have a signature dish as we’re constantly looking to change the menu. I might bring a dish back that we had on last year, but it will have evolved further since then. We’re constantly working on the dishes as they’re on the menu anyway.
The cod dish, confit leeks, black quinoa, truffle and cod bouillon is the best selling dish at the moment.
When The Staff Canteen last spoke to you, there was obvious frustration at not having achieved the star at Danesfield House.
What impact has the star had on your restaurant and do you feel more confident with what you are doing today?
Yes, it’s affected business with the type of clientele we get in and their spend per head, but it’s also recognition for the work that we’ve done and the way we’ve evolved from when I first started at Danesfield.
I feel more confident in what we’re doing, the more natural approach I have now. The way the food’s put on the plate is not so intense, so regimented anymore – it’s far freer. That confidence has come from maturity though, not the star.
Talk us through the menus at Danesfield House. How many menus do you offer and how regularly do you change your menus?
We have two menus at the moment: the à la carte and the tasting menu. Winter to Spring I change the whole menu; in Spring to Summer we work on dishes as and when things come into season; and the whole menu is changed again in the Autumn. We probably change up to three-quarters of the dishes from Spring to Summer and in Autumn and Winter we’ll change three-quarters of the dishes again; it’s a constantly evolving process. The menu’s very much driven by seasonality and produce – using the best produce at the best time.
From March I’m looking to go to tasting menus. I think it can make our food more intricate with fewer elements on the plate, so the guest will get more flavour from the plate. We can balance the menu in the way we see fit. We’re thinking at the moment about how many menus to offer; perhaps a cheaper lunch option and two other menus, and then have a more elaborate dinner menu instead of the cheaper lunch option in the evening. That’s still to be decided, but again, the tasting menus will give us flexibility to change dishes as and when things come into season. For example, sometimes the season for cherries can be short, so it allows us to adapt to that season, without having to buy it in from another country if it ends sooner than we anticipated.
Equally, you have to keep the boys interested as well by changing things, so they see different ideas, different products.
Can you tell us more about your process of creating a dish? Where do you draw inspiration? How long is the process from idea to putting it on the table in front of a customer and how do you get to that point?
We choose a product for the main component and then build the dish around that, based on seasonality. The creative process starts from there: the garnishes, playing around with textures and so on. The way I approach new dishes will have to change when I go into tasting menus.
I try and encourage the boys in getting involved; it’s important for their development to be involved with that process. When I was in their position I was told that this was what I was doing and that’s it. Everyone – commis, sous, everyone – has an idea and you can draw ideas and learn from them too, as much as they can learn from you.
As well as looking after Adam Simmonds Restaurant (ASR) at Danesfield House, in your role as Executive Chef you also look after The Orangery. As a hotel business, how do you go about managing your food costs and how do you cost your menu? What GP do you work to?
The banqueting is the money making end of the business, then The Orangery and then the ASR. By making good margins on banqueting, it allows me to do what I do in the ASR. We’re very fortunate in that respect that the food costs are tied into one, so our GP is 34%.
Can you make money in a Michelin starred restaurant? How do you ensure your restaurant is profitable for Danesfield?
Yes you can make money in a starred restaurant, but I have the luxury – because of the banqueting side of the hotel – that I can use pretty much what I want.
Everything’s costed properly and wastage is kept to a minimum, it’s instilled from the boys from day one. Yes, we do get to use the best produce, but you have to look after it. Anything we do have left over can be used in The Orangery – I’m lucky that I have other outlets to use things. If we have a whole pig come in, we’ll use the prime cuts in the ASR and the other cuts in The Orangery.