Adam Stokes: The new Michelin Star Chef in Birmingham [interview]
Birmingham’s holy trinity of Michelin-starred chefs – Richard Turner, Glynn Purnell and Andreas Antona – are joined by a fourth on Friday 12th April. That’s when Adam Stokes, a Lincolnshire chef who earned his Michelin Star at Glenapp Castle in Scotland, finally opens doors at the much-anticipated adam’s restaurant.
[by Ahmed Ahmed]
When I joined Adam at the site on Bennett’s Hill a fortnight before opening, it was still very much a work-in-progress. The first thing I noticed about the man himself was his extraordinary height. The second was the obvious passion this new venture excites in him.
As he guided me through the compact premises, dodging workmen and stepping carefully over metal poles, he explained in detail where everything was to go – here the wine cabinet, there the pass, overhead the soft mood lights – and I could almost see it too.
After the tour, we sat down for a coffee, and I took the opportunity to ask a few questions.
We first heard about the new restaurant coming to the city last year – has it been a long and difficult process to get to opening, or a painless one?
I have been wanting to set up my own restaurant for years, and with my wife Natasha we are lucky enough to be able to realise that dream. Coming to Birmingham we wanted to create a small pop-up with a view to moving to a larger premises within a couple of years. Our search for the perfect location has taken us down the route of converting a sandwich shop into a dining venue. There have been plenty of obstacles and it has taken a lot of work to change the internal workings but we just loved the location.
What was the thinking behind setting up shop in Birmingham?
I am from the Midlands and I was ready to come back. I grew up in Lincolnshire and Natasha is from Leicester, we’ve worked in Leicestershire, Derby, Nottingham and now we feel it’s a natural progression to come here.
I think Birmingham is a terrific city, the people are very savvy, it’s very vibrant, and all the quality restaurants here prove that fine dining works. Aside from the three Michelin star restaurants in Birmingham, there are many fantastic places on the cusp of Michelin stars. I see a very keen push towards being the best.
Awards like the Michelin Star and the AA Rosettes – how important are they to you, as a chef?
It’s great to get recognition, but to be honest, we just do what we do. I have my own cooking identity, while getting inspiration from other chefs, from eating out and from travelling. Recently I was in Vietnam and I found it phenomenal – Asian meets French style. All these fresh South East Asian ingredients in French cooking make a beautiful combination.
And I’m into healthy cuisine – gone are the days of heavy red wine sauces and creamy dishes, in my opinion.
How would you describe the menu at the new adam’s Restaurant in Birmingham?
Modern British food. What I like to do is to take familiar marriages – not wacky pairings of ingredients – but put them together in an unfamiliar, interesting way. So one example would be the pig’s trotter, smoked eel and bacon jam. We cook the trotters for ages until they’re gelatinous just like the eel, then we cut it up in such a way that you can’t tell which part is the pig and which is the eel.
So there’s definitely a bit of a wow factor – you like to surprise your diners?
Absolutely. We use scientific techniques too, to change the texture and presentation of things but ultimately to improve the dish. For example, the white onion puree. White onions have a high water content which means they don’t puree well. So we take lots of onions, mix them with a milky stock and thicken them with a special agent called Gellan gum, then after a cooking process you get a silky smooth gel – which gives a better mouth feel with more onion flavour.
And where do you get your ingredients from? Local sources?
The first issue is quality. But then yes, as far as possible, local. Our pork comes from a small farm down the road, but the scallops have to be from a specific supplier I trust in Scotland. I’m looking forward to getting to know more local suppliers.
Small independent producers, or larger ones – do you have any preference?
We try to stay away from the larger companies – smaller suppliers are generally more passionate and more bespoke. But quality always dictates – if something’s not right we always send it back.
I just found a game supplier in Studley – he’s just a small-scale butcher but really keen and enthusiastic. I was driving back from a meeting and stopped when I saw two pheasants hanging by a shop. I went in to ask if he had any woodcocks, which he did. For me – these are the king of game. And they were stunning.
So, imagine you have the night off, where would you take Natasha [his wife and partner at adam’s] for a meal in Birmingham?
Well, I like different things at different times. Last night we went to Lasan Eatery. Last Friday, we ate at a pop-up in Leverton and Halls deli. Over the past year, we’ve eaten at Simpsons and Purnells, and loved both. And we’re looking forward to trying more.
We’re very keen on creating a casual dining experience at adam’s. For example we’ve painted the high ceiling to create the illusion of a more intimate space. We want people to feel special but relaxed.
And what do you like to do when you’re not cooking or dining?
This one’s easy – sleep! And spend time with the wife and family.
adam’s Restaurant opens to the public on Friday 12 April and will serve two tasting menus of varying length. A shorter three course menu will also be available at lunchtime. The ‘Tasting 5’ and ‘Tasting 9’ menus are priced at £45 and £75 respectively, and are complemented by a focused wine list.
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