Tag: interview

Adam Banks is one of Cornwall’s most well respected and talented young chefs, and we’re excited to be welcoming him back to Philleigh Way in early September for another of his “Italy with…” cookery courses. The former head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay, he has a deep passion for Italian food and his knowledge of the cuisine is second to none. During lockdown he started a weekend pasta box delivery that has proven so popular that it’s still going strong and selling out every week; I caught up with him over the phone whilst he was kneading pasta dough, to find out more about his food, his inspirations, and the best advice he’s received from any of the star chefs that he’s met and worked with over his career

tagliatelle made by adam banks

Adam, what is it about Italian cuisine and the country’s food culture that draws you towards it?

It’s hard to say what I love about Italian food though… I feel it; it’s weird. I enjoy it and I always make this joke that I must have been Italian in a former life or something, because of this feeling for it that I have.
I would have to say though that it’s the emphasis on the ingredients and how little is done to them to put them on the plate. Also the focus on seasonality – these are all things that I have always looked towards.
I wish that the UK had some similarities to Italian food culture in the way that families get together for those meals, the matriarchs, those nonnas cooking and making pasta and dishes and passing the recipes down from generation to generation, teaching the family and making sure that the traditions are kept alive. I like the ideal of tradition in some ways, but I still like to move forward with ideas and techniques, or else you’re going to get stuck.
The flavour combinations in Italian dishes, the style of food, the pasta… these are all quite simple ideas. A beautiful nice piece of fish, cooked quite simply, generally either in an oven or on a char grill, seasoned nicely, served with a simple salad or with some potatoes that somebody’s grown in their garden… cooking with beautiful vegetables. It’s only when you get to the restaurants that things start to change slightly, trying to impress you, but the little villages and the nonnas still getting up in the morning and smashing out some pasta is what draws me towards Italian food the most.
It’s also the the rustic-ness of it, the idea that you can just put on a plate some vegetables, simply dressed, and not in a pretty fashion – toss ‘em all up, put them on a plate, and dig in as a starter or with a piece of meat.

You’ve visited Italy frequently, many times leading the Fifteen apprentices on a food field trip to Tuscany. What were your favourite things to share with the apprentices during those trips?

Those trips were really important, because we were basically trying to show the apprentices the importance of the ingredients and how much emphasis is put onto products and ingredients such as olive oil… to see it being made biodynamically, alongside these beautiful white cattle being reared on the same land and how it all interlinks. What we tried to build in those trips was a sense of respect. We tried to have fun with it and they were fun – we wanted them to enjoy it – but they were there for a reason. They were there to learn about Italian food culture, about why there is this big thing about Italian food. To have them in it and be there and be learning and eating and touching the grapes and the olives and to feel it, essentially, was probably one of the best ways to get it into them. To be there and to share with them what this all meant was one of my favourite things. To be able to say to them, “this is some of the best olive oil you’ll ever taste in your life and it’s because of this and this…” and give them the information, get them to meet the producer and try to fill the gaps for them. We’d have a producer or a grower talk to them about their wine or their olives or about their beef or about being a butcher, and we’d explain to them how important what these people do is and how important it is to respect your produce. Respect is a word that’s probably going to pop up a lot in this conversation, because I think that it’s sometimes lacking – especially in the food industry. We get these guys to grow things for us or go out and catch fish or rear cattle, and then we buy it off them and it’s almost like we lose that sense of what that person has just done for us. They put so much time and effort into that end product that we take off them that we should continue wholeheartedly with the respect for what they’ve done so that when it gets to somebody’s plate they can see that we’ve tried our best to give them the best representation of what it was that was grown, reared or caught. They were the favourite things to share with the apprentices on those trips, learning the respect and learning to admire what these people do constantly day in and day out.

apprentices at fifteen cornwall with chefs and tutors

What do you enjoy most about sharing your skills with others?

I would say the bottom line is that hopefully by sharing my skills with others we’re all going to eat better. I’m not saying that I’m some kind of preacher about what we should and shouldn’t be eating, but if I can teach somebody or show them something that helps them at home to eat better or cook better then surely that’s a good thing, and I enjoy that. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and I enjoy people asking me questions… although I probably waffle too much!
At Fifteen it wasn’t just about food skills, it was also about social skills. You’re working in a kitchen, you’re working with people who have spent quite a number of years working in kitchens and building up respect and I suppose it was a way for us to pass on ideas of how to behave or work ethic, those kinds of skills – not just the best way to chop an onion or roll pasta. I think I quite enjoyed the idea of taking this group of people under my wing. Yeah I’d fall out with them on occasion, or they’d call me names and stuff like that or shout at me or stomp off, but it’s only because we were trying to get the best out of them and to show them that what they were doing originally or at that moment in time was not the correct way to do it. We’d try to, in a gentle way, guide them towards what we thought was the right way. Say one of the apprentices did something to another apprentice… there was no point shouting at them… we didn’t swear in the kitchen, it’s not a done thing any more. Kitchens are professional places now and people take it very seriously. We were trying to get the apprentices to be the best that they could be, regardless of their background. I think I enjoyed sharing a lot of my skills with everybody and it’s good to share. I think we’d all be in a better place if we shared more with each other, whether that’s how to cook or how to behave. I enjoyed seeing the apprentices take onboard what I’d told or shown them and putting it into practice.

chef gennaro contaldo teaching apprentices at fifteen cornwall
Legendary Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo teaching apprentices whilst visiting Fifteen.

During lockdown you started making and delivering a weekly pasta dish around your hometown of Newquay, and you’ve had a big pasta focus of late. What is it about pasta that you love and enjoy so much?

The versatility of it. The fact that’s it either just eggs and flour, or water and flour, and then you turn it into beautiful shapes or ribbons or little noodley things… there’re thousands of shapes and many of them I won’t ever see because it’ll be a little shape that’s only made in a remote little village right in the middle of Italy in some mountain range.

lobster ravioli made by adam banks

I’m kneading pasta right now as we talk! My focus on pasta hasn’t been intentional, it’s mainly because of the business idea of getting these pasta boxes to people during lockdown. It was a nice treat, it was a nice thing for me to be doing. I enjoy making pasta at home so my girlfriend asked why I didn’t just start making it for other people. I thought I’d start off doing ten portions a night and see what happened. It’s grown though, and it’s great. I max out now at about 30 portions per night which is plenty, so 60 over a Friday and Saturday, and I’ve been really enjoying it and people have been enjoying eating it.

pasta box made by adam banks

I love the idea that pasta changes. It’s a bit like making bread; if you’re making it somewhere that’s quite dry or it’s a hot day or it’s humid, then the dough’s going to behave differently and react to what you’re doing and the touch and heat of your hands. It’s like you’re forever learning with it that I think is great.
Some of it is understanding why you put egg yolks in with whole eggs one time and why you just do egg yolk another, why you do flour and water, why you do semolina and water, and working out those doughs. I just really enjoy it. Not only is it a quick and easy meal to eat at home but you can be creative at home and learn. Eating a good sheet of pasta with some olive oil, chili and salt is delicious, rolled well by paying attention on how many times you’ve rolled it and building up that structure within the dough, and then also paying attention to how thick you cut it and how you cook it. There are so many little variables but it’s just four and egg! It’s great and I love it.

crab anolini pasta made by adam banks

What’s the best tip you’ve ever been given as a chef (and by whom)?

I’ve had a few over the years. Work hard, which doesn’t mean work all the extra hours, it just means when you’re at work, work hard. Get there 20 minutes or half an hour early, be in the kitchen 20 minutes before you’re supposed to start… but stay late if you have to. You’re a team, part of a brigade, you’re supposed to be a unit essentially. Work hard but make sure that you enjoy it.
Keep your integrity, keep your ideas, keep your morals about what it is that you cook and what it is that you want to cook.

One of the funniest tips I was given was quite recently. I was having dinner with two guys who I was working for, in Paris, just before lockdown. We’d gone out for dinner at quite a fancy restaurant (three-Michelin starred L’Arpège) and the chef came out at the end to talk to all of the guests. He’s quite a famous chef called Alain Passard and he doesn’t speak much English, and none of us speak much French. One lad talked about how his grandfather was a fan of Alain, and had taught him about cooking and what it means. Just as Alain walked away from our table, he put his arm around me and leaned over the table and, in this really Parisian accent (you couldn’t get much more stereotypical) he said “Goodnight guys, it is all about the vegetable” and walked off. The three of us looked at each other with the realization that he’d not understood a word that we’d said to him! But, it’s stuck with me and when you think about it, it is all about the vegetables. We obviously eat too much fish, we eat too much meat, and we don’t give the vegetables enough of the spotlight. We leave them for the vegetarians and the vegans and that’s wrong man, that’s completely wrong. My girlfriend is pescatarian and during lockdown we found ourselves eating more and more vegetarian dishes, more because that’s how we like eating than anything else.

And what tip would you give to enthusiastic home cooks, and also to anybody wanting a career as a chef?

Enthusiastic home cooks… to those guys I would say read cookbooks, get ideas, and have a go. There’s no harm in it. One big thing is don’t cook things on ten – turn your hobs down and use medium heat, don’t blast things all the time because you will just burn stuff. But it’s more really about just having a go. Cook some food, enjoy it and enjoy the process of it. Enjoy cracking the eggs, mixing the flour, turning it into pasta, and enjoy the process as much or more than the end result of cooking the dish. Embrace the process at home. In a professional kitchen it’s all about the mise en place which is preparation, preparation, preparation, and that’s the bit that you need to enjoy. You’ll enjoy the cooking because that’s the high intensity adrenaline rush moment (especially in service), but if you’re cooking at home then you need to enjoy the prep. Man, I love rolling pasta and having a glass of wine, relaxing and enjoying the whole moment of it!
Definitely always cook like you’re enjoying it because people will taste it in your food because you’ve put the effort and your heart and soul into it. And if you’re cooking for yourself do the same!

For people wanting a career as a chef… at the moment there’s hardly any chefs. People are crying out for chefs but young people don’t want to do it because they see it as this career where everybody works really long hours and you don’t get to hang out with your mates in the evenings, and it seems like really hard work. It can be all of those things and you’ve got to be dedicated if you want to succeed. I would say don’t be put off by that hard work because if you put in that effort you’ll get rewarded.

At Falmouth’s leading gastro pub The Star and Garter you did a lot of smoking and cooking over live fire, and at Fifteen at Watergate where you were head chef the focus was on Italian dishes. What are the key principles or threads that weave through all of your cooking?

I think it’s commitment, integrity, passion… they all sound like quite cheesy lines but I suppose that’s what it is. I’ve worked at Fifteen as a head chef but previously as a chef de partis and worked my way up to a junior sous chef position, and I’ve always enjoyed cooking Italian food. Then I went to Australia and was cooking Greek food, and then at The Star and Garter I was cooking a mixture of Italian and British influenced food. I suppose in the end you just want to make a plate of food that tastes good and looks appealing. I think when people say, “it might look a bit shit but it tastes great”, well it depends what you’re going for. It can’t always look shit because at some point people are going to say, “well, it doesn’t look very appealing to eat”.

I think keeping to my beliefs, so no matter what I’m cooking I make sure that I’m cooking nice food using good produce, good suppliers, and keeping my integrity and ethics the same constantly. I think that’s what shows when I put a plate of food in front of someone – it might not be classic Italian or classic Greek or whatever it is, but you can see what my passions are and my background. No matter what I’m doing though, I just enjoy cooking.

You’ve recently spent some time in Copenhagen. What are your thoughts on the food scene there and how has it inspired you in your cooking since returning?

I’ve been going out to Copenhagen for the last four years or so. I’ve got some friends who live out there so just going out to see them, but partly too because there are a few restaurants that I follow and I feel like I’ve been getting inspired by that scene for a while now. The ideas that they’re plating, their forward thinking on food, their creativity, I quite enjoy all of that. I think that if there was an opportunity then maybe I’d go out there to work for a while. But spending that last five weeks out there was great; I learnt so much in just five weeks which if I spent a year there it would drive a massive improvement in my capabilities as a chef and my technical skills. I’d learn so much. It has definitely inspired me, in the way that I plate things, in the way that I like to think about different ideas, particularly with fermentation and pickling, and how you can increase flavour profiles by adding fermented foods to dishes.


Click here to find out more about Adam’s “Italy With…” cookery course on Saturday September 5th, and to secure your space. Tickets cost £160 per person.

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