Having worked at The Belfry, Hand Picked Hotels and a number of Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants, Adam knows what it takes to deliver an excellent dish at every single service.
How did you first become a chef?
Becoming a chef was actually a complete accident. I left school at an early age and wanted to become a firefighter. But I wasn’t old enough to join the fire service, so I ended up working at The Belfry hotel and resort and doing an apprenticeship course there.
At some point I ended up in the kitchen, and I instantly fell in love with it. I loved the hustle and bustle of the kitchen and I really looked up to those chefs.
Did you have any particular chefs who inspired you?
In the really early part of my career, Gordon Ramsay was a big influence. He did a TV programme called ‘Boiling Point’, which was a brutal, honest look at what professional kitchens were like in really high-end establishments – and I felt that I wanted some of this in my life.
So I went off and honed my skills around The Belfry, and was then fortunate enough to work with some really good chefs around the Midlands. They took a chance and put me into a fine-dining restaurant, and that helped grow my confidence and skills and led to work in some Michelin-starred restaurants.
What does a normal day look like for a development chef?
One of the wonderful things with being a chef and working in hospitality is that you can go off in lots of different directions. So my role as development chef is quite a varied role and sits between two functions.
One function is to support around 15 to 20 executive chefs at group level in the hotels. They run their own business and kitchens, but they know they can reach out to me and get my help.
The other function of my role is development work with our local restaurateur partners, where I help with the supply chain, recruitment into the hotel, the design concepts and the menu etc.
So a typical day for me could be travelling to a new hotel location, meetings with some of our restaurateur partners and then working with one of the chefs in the new kitchen to help with a busy service, and maybe looking at some new dishes they’re developing for their menu.
How do you meet current trends in food?
Most of the hotels and restaurants are in city centre locations – and that always helps you keep up with the latest trends and what’s happening in the market. So, for example, the dining scene in Edinburgh will be very different to London’s city centre dining scene.
I do a lot of travelling as well, so I have time when I’m on the train to read about what’s going on with the latest trends. Plus I can check out what’s happening in these new locales – that helps a lot. And just talking to other people in the industry and getting a flavour for that scene.
Different trends in food will lend themselves to different areas. So you’ve got to understand your customer demographic, what your target market is and aim to hit that point accurately.
How difficult is it to deliver consistency across a whole chain?
Turnover of chefs in the industry is quite high at the moment, so you can be struggling for staff on those busy nights like Fridays and the weekends – that can be a problem.
So, for me, I’ll turn to a partner like Nestlé Professional who have the right products and the right ideas to support my team in delivering what they need to do. Because I’m buying those ingredients in, there’s a level of consistency there that helps me to do what I need to do.
Is there a particular product that delivers this consistency?
CHEF All-Natural Stocks range is tremendous and brilliant at giving me that consistency we need. Stock is such an easy thing for a chef to make, but it’s time-consuming to do.
If you can buy that product in and don’t have to worry about the consistency of your stock, or the time taken to make it, that’s brilliant. That time you free up could be spent on something higher value in the kitchen that’s more relevant to the customer. So I can spend more time cooking the perfect steak for my customer, and giving them the dining experience they’ve paid for.
Having these CHEF products in the kitchen allows me to switch my entire team’s focus away from that initial prep and production and onto the final dish that they send to the pass.
Do pre-made ingredients help you to innovate?
Some chefs, myself included, find themselves in a rut occasionally. You get a product or ingredients that you’re very happy with and don’t want to change. So the onus is on suppliers to look for the next thing, and bring that to the table so busy chefs can get out of that rut.
When Nestlé Professional come to you with a new product, like a red wine reduction, or black garlic paste, you can give that to the guys in the kitchen and see what they come up with. And because you have more time, it frees you up to try new creative things with these products.
Has the quality of ingredients changed over time?
I probably shouldn’t say this, but this is a good example of how things have changed. 10 years ago when you entered a competition run by food brands, you’d smuggle your own stock in because their product was so bad. You know you needed to use their product, but you also needed your dish to taste amazing to win the competition.
These days, with the quality of the stock products from a brand like CHEF, you don’t think twice about using a pre-made stock, because the products have moved on so much. The products now are getting better and better, and with that quality we need as chefs.
What’s your favourite dish to prepare at the moment?
Because I travel around to so many restaurants and kitchens, I do tend to fall in love with a lot of different dishes. So if I’m in the Midlands, there’s so much great Asian cuisine, or if I’m in Edinburgh, we have a great North African place that has some awesome food.
I’ll take those influences on board and will then go home and try something in my own kitchen, or in the development kitchen. Cauliflower is something we’ve been messing around with recently, after the trend for cauliflower steaks as a vegetarian dish. It’s such a versatile ingredient, whether you chargrill the steaks or blitz it up to make cauliflower couscous.
How does partnering with Nestlé Professional help you?
We know that Nestlé Professional has the right product range to support what we’re trying to do as chefs. So whether it’s stock, marinades or garlic paste, it’s about knowing the flavour profiles are correct, the quality is there, the price point is right and you’ve got consistency in the kitchen.
For me, it’s those quality and consistency levels that are the real key to using these ingredients. That’s been a real game-changer for our business.
Adam Bateman is Group Operations and Development Chef at Principal Hotels: find out more about Adam here.
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