Rising Culinary Star Adam Nevin Calmly Showing How It’s Done

Tuesday, June 04, 2024. 9:18pm
Rising Culinary Star Adam Nevin Calmly Showing How It’s Done

Rising Culinary Star Calmly Showing How It’s Done on Home Turf

Adam knows his onions!!

Adam Nevin was born 30 years ago in Maynooth into a well-established local building family. His career path was a very different one, however. Today, he is one of Ireland’s brightest culinary stars. After a stint working in some of the finest kitchens in Dublin and then the UK, he is back working in his hometown as head chef at the Morrisson Room in Carton House Fairmont.

Most recently, Adam worked at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Before that, his blazing career path brought him to the 2-Michelin-star restaurant/pub The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

From an early age, Adam displayed an attraction to kitchen and a strong aversion to the building site:

“They used always bring me on site when I was around 14 or 15,” says Adam, “but I absolutely hated it. I didn’t want to be outside and I couldn’t be dealing with the cold weather aspect of it. The kitchen can be a tough environment too, but it’s a different kind of tough – more suited to me.”

Growing up watching his mother and grandmother cooking in the kitchen gave him a taste for the creative side of food. In his home, the option of buying a birthday cake was never a realistic one.

“My youngest memory is being about 8 to 10 years old,” says Adam, “cracking eggs and weighing out the floor for my grandmother… I always liked it. I’ve happy memories of food from an early age; from sharing meals and cakes with people. It was always fun and there was always a great sense of achievement when you made something.”

Adam isn’t the only chef whose early memories of cooking at home with an older relative have been formative in becoming a chef. Another trait he shares with several of his professional colleagues is that of academic under-achievement:

“I wasn’t much good in school,” says Adam. “I was a bit of a messer! I couldn’t wait to get out of there, to be honest.”

His first foray into the business was as a porter in a local café, Twist, during Transition Year.

“I didn’t care what I was doing… I was happy to be washing up or whatever. I just wanted to get into a kitchen and see what it was like.”

At school, there was very little support for his clear passion for the culinary arts, with some teachers going so far as to discourage him from the sector completely.

“A number of teachers said nasty things to me; that I’d never go on to be something because I was always quite ‘bold’ in school.”

In contrast, his family were supportive, telling him that if this was something he was interested in, then he should do it. Adam admits that he saw little of the school doors in his final year in Secondary School, sitting his Leaving Certificate more as a box-ticking exercise than anything else.

He kept his job in Twist, working every weekend, and by the time he had finished with his Secondary education, he had progressed to preparing starters and parts of the main courses – assisting the chef while still on washing-up duty.

“Gavin, the chef, was very supportive and he really opened up my eyes to cooking… I didn’t like onions when I started in Twist and he was always saying that you have to have onions for flavour in cooking, so eventually I got into using onions… I love onions now!”

Under Gavin’s tutelage, he gained a basic grounding in many of the elementary cooking skills – from making roux sauce to dicing vegetables.

At the age of 19, Adam went to the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin as Commis Chef. Here, he experienced a steep but very worthwhile learning curve.

When Adam left two years later, it was to London, to work as a Chef de Partie at the Alyn Williams’ restaurant in the Westbury Hotel.

Rising Culinary Star Adam Nevin Calmly Showing How It’s Done

Adam maintains that the UK was ahead of Ireland in terms of the quality of the restaurants and the access to better produce. In fact, he believes that British restaurants still have access to better produce.

“For example, the asparagus is in season now but I have to order my asparagus one week in advance. Restaurants in London can order it today and have it by tomorrow.”

While such a product that has to come from France might be an obvious target, Adam points out that even fish is hard to get in Ireland.

“It’s very hard to get a wild turbot, for example… we’re an island nation that can’t get the fish we need. A lot of our seabass comes from Spain and France. A lot of Irish boats are catching it but they have to land it elsewhere… it’s crazy if you ask me, although these days we are getting better at the beef side of things, and the lamb.”

Adam has high hopes for the catering industry in Ireland, – particularly at the high end of culinary art where he works.

“I think that what’s good about the current generation of young chefs in Ireland now is that they’re always looking for something new – always looking to push the boat out. I think that it’s because we’re more educated about cooking now. There are so many people doing different things and Instagram has had a massive influence on that aspect of it.

“It’s all about food education and knowledge. You just get out there and see what food sources are around you.”

He’s a big believer in learning by doing; by making mistakes and seeing what went wrong.

“If you make a mistake and you learn from it, then it’s not a mistake,” says Adam. “I see young chefs messing something up but once they’ve done it a few times they won’t make those mistakes again.

“They see me not getting angry. I just say things like, ‘Don’t panic… you’ve still 2 hours to go until service… you’re all right… together we’ll get there in the end’. It’s teamwork. If you burn a tart and hide it, for example, that’s when I’ll get angry. The trust is broken and with a kitchen, the only one that suffers is the guest.”

At Carton House, there’s a good work-life balance in operation, with long hours but a short week – often four days on and three days off.

“We’re all very young in the kitchen,” says Adam. “We’re all full of beans, working hard trying to please everyone.

“The food is quite classical with a modern twist… flavour always comes first in my opinion. I always do a dish based on pure flavour. Visually, it has to be beautiful and elegant and sharp too. We don’t cut any corners – everything is made in-house.

“One of the other things I like to do in the kitchen is to move people around. So, for example, you have your own canapé section for the first two months. Then you’ll be moved onto the garnish section or the pastry section… we rotate it every two months. I want them to leave me as accomplished chefs. If you start with me as a commis chef and you move around all the sections, and you’re brilliant at every section, I’d never want you to stay with me because it wouldn’t be fair on you. I’d like them to go and work somewhere else – a level up from where they are.”

Adam believes that apprenticeships are probably the way to go – particularly in the area of fine dining, where he believes that you have to get into a kitchen and work your way up.

“You need to work in a professional kitchen; to feel the benefits of a professional kitchen. If you’re going to college for four days and only spending one day in my kitchen, for example, you’re not going to learn a lot… If you’re in there every day, you’ll learn a massive amount. I’d say you’d learn in six months in a kitchen what you’d learn in college in a year.”

Adam always encourages his staff to get out into the dining room and engage with guests. It helps to remind them, he says, of why they are doing what they’re doing.

“You can often ask yourself, ‘why am I working so hard?’ but when you go out into the kitchen and speak to people and realise how happy you’ve made someone or how special you’ve made someone’s occasion… seeing the delight on people’s faces is second to none.

“I would like to get a Michelin star here… I think we just need to focus on what we do and do it to the best of our abilities. If it happens, it will evolve naturally from there. I’m not going to get too obsessed with it because at the end of the day, it’s the guests who are the most important and the guys in the kitchen and the learning and sense of togetherness and producing the best possible food that you can.”

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