Adam Reid took over from Simon Rogan as chef-patron of The French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in November last year, after working there as head chef since 2013. He talks about the challenge of re-launching the restaurant under his name, Great British Menu and why Manchester hasn’t yet got a Michelin star.
You’re two months into the official launch of Adam Reid at The French now, how is it going?
It’s gone and is going quite well, I think. The feedback we’re getting is very positive and all-in-all I do feel like it’s my restaurant now. The problem we had was that the French has been an entity in itself for quite a long time and has become particularly well-known over the last four years. When I took it over, there was no big shut down and wait before re-opening. We had a couple of weeks to give it a lick of paint and then say ‘here’s your new restaurant’. The food is completely different – the only thing I kept were the taster menus – but getting people to understand that it is a different restaurant has been difficult.
What has been the biggest challenge since becoming chef-patron?
Some think it is an easy job because the restaurant is already going, but as I said before, in some ways that’s the most difficult thing about it. You are trying to live up to what people thought it was before while also make it something new. I couldn’t complain, the restaurant was full, scored 8 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide and was well-known throughout the country and in the trade, which was great, but I didn’t want to just sit there and continue doing the same thing and that comes with its challenges.
It all happened at a really hectic time too. It was decided that I’d take over in late September last year. Simon departed and I took over on the 1st November, so I had just over a month to get my head round things. September and October was also when Great British Menu was being aired so I was really under the cosh. In all I had just three months to get it to how I wanted before relaunching it in February and that was tough.
The restaurant has its own identity now – it is Adam Reid at The French – but that has probably been the biggest challenge, creating it in such a short time and getting the understanding that yes, the restaurant was successful as it was, but now it is something else and I want to work in a different way.
What are you planning for the year ahead?
As a new restaurant we’ve only be going at it for a couple of months and the evolution of the food and dining experience has been phenomenal. We are already a million miles away from when we opened, so it’s hard to focus on the future. At the moment, I want to hit the highest quality I can do while creating an identity for the restaurant and myself as a chef.
Saying that, I don’t think anyone opens a restaurant and six to 12 months later are doing the same food as when they opened, so it will change. As a chef and restaurateur, if your product doesn’t grow and evolve you might as well pack up shop, because you’re never going to get anywhere.
As chef-patron of a high-end restaurant in Manchester, where do you stand on the city’s lack of a Michelin star?
I’m Manchester born and raised. I spent a long time away focusing on my career but up until 18 I was Mancunian and I have a lot of love for this city, but quite frankly I couldn’t give a damn whether Manchester itself has a Michelin star. Manchester doesn’t get a star, Manchester gets a restaurant that is worthy of a star.
If the city is so keen on having one it needs to foster people to achieve that. It needs to allow chefs to open independent restaurants around the 40-cover mark without being nailed by high leases. I know if I opened this restaurant bang in the centre of the city I wouldn’t be able to survive doing what I’m doing. It’s why there are so many mid-range places in Manchester city centre.
Unfortunately too, in Manchester most people will only ever eat out on a Saturday night. Trying to fill a restaurant on a Monday, Tuesday or even sometimes a Friday is a struggle, so a 40-cover restaurant with big overheads, trying to hit Michelin standards with such a big focus on quality, physically couldn’t operate in that environment without making a loss.
What impact has appearing on Great British Menu (GBM) had on you?
It had a massive impact on my profile and on the business. When everything was going on and GBM had been aired, you can imagine how busy we were. Straight after, I put my whole GBM menu on as a lunch offer and we were doing 30 or 40 covers a day at lunch. That was hard. The dishes might look simple, but they’re bloody difficult. We still have the Golden Empire (Adam’s winning dessert) on as a pre-order now and people say they remember it from GBM and come in to try just that dish.
TV media is one of the best ways to reach people these days. Social media is great, but you’re a voice in a crowd and it’s who shouts the loudest, but with TV you’ve got someone focusing on it in their living room, so being on it had such a big impact.
Would you appear on GBM again?
They were chasing for me to be on it again for this series, but I needed to focus on what I’m doing here. This is my opportunity to set my stall out I suppose as a chef and a restaurateur. I would definitely do it again in the future though.
Looking back at the last one, I do think I was fortunate to be on the series I was in terms of the contestants. My region – the North West – had been average for quite a few years, so I thought I’d have a chance, but that year there was Matt Worswick who had retained a star and is head chef at Pennyhill Park and Kim Woodward who at the time was one of Gordon Ramsay’s head chefs and has gone on to be executive chef at Skylon. I looked at the line-up thought “Oh for God’s sake!” Everyone was high level.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Your career is a flowing thing. It spans decades and to say that one has influenced you over others, would be to say you haven’t had a very good career. I haven’t had a massively varied career but I have had a good mix of other things. I did my apprenticeship at Bridgewater Hall and it was a really strong foundation, then worked in a beer keller in Germany.
The chefs I’ve worked for – the three Simon’s have inspired me in different ways. Simon Haigh taught me how to cook, Simon Radley taught me how to nail an operation and Simon Rogan about fine food and creativity.
If you could sort out one big issue in the industry what would it be and how would you solve it?
I’m not saying I know how to solve it, but the staffing situation needs tackling. I’m not talking about the shortage of chefs, I’m talking about the hours we expect people to work.
This is an industry that needs passion, but you don’t need to work ridiculous hours to demonstrate you have it. The problem is the industry expects people to work long 12 hour shifts for low pay and that puts so many talented people off.
There has got to be a point where every single operator and business wakes up and realises that people won’t work like that any longer. I’m not saying we make the industry 9-5, but things need to change and employers will have to pay for it in some way.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor