Interview – Adam Fargin
Aviator?s new Head Chef, Adam Fargin, talks about how his past experience, including reaching the finals of MasterChef, which catapulted his career in food, and how he believes simplicity, combined with his classical approach to cooking, will be the key to the ongoing success of the food outlets at the hotel.
I don?t think I was ever destined to be a chef. When I was a child, I was a terrible eater. Whether I was at a family party or on holiday, cupcakes, chocolate milk and French fries were all I used to eat. At school, I hated my cooking lessons. It?s not something I really excelled in and, honestly, I think I just about scraped a grade C. But the funny thing is, from a very young age, I had the ability to distinguish between well and poorly cooked food, who I thought was a good cook and who I thought was a bad one and most importantly, I knew what I liked and refused to eat anything that I didn?t.
It was the indirect influence of my parents that got me into the industry. Hampshire born and bred, I grew up in a small town just outside Winchester. Both my parents worked full time and so didn?t have much time to experiment with food, nor did they have a lot of time to cook. But this is what has encouraged me to explore different types of food and expand the repertoire of foods that I liked and disliked. It was by doing this that I realised my preference was very much simple, classic flavours.
I started my kitchen career in pot-wash; I think that?s where most chefs start. The lively kitchen atmosphere and the passion of the chefs I worked with just rubbed off on me. It definitely gave me the hunger to continue and to progress. I went on to study at Highbury College in Cosham, Porstmouth, where I completed an AVC and a HND in Hospitality Management. Whilst there wasn?t much cooking involved, the management skills I learnt helped to lay the foundation of my career.
A modern approach to classical cooking and simplicity are key for me. I spend an awful long time sourcing great, local produce so I want to showcase that on a plate and not take away from it or overdress it with theatrics.
Becoming a chef for the first time in 1999, albeit whilst studying at the Marriott Meon Valley Hotel in Southampton, was a huge lifestyle change for me. Up until that point, cooking wasn?t a career, even after my studies I thought about it more as a stop gap before something else. For the next four years, I continued to accompany my studying with practical work placements, working as Chef and Chef de Partie in two further kitchens in the South West.
After the four years, I wanted to try something different and explore the food culture and how a kitchen operates in a different country, so in 2003 I took part in a work placement at the Grand View Lodge at Gull Lake in Minnesota in the USA. Whilst there, I had great fun cooking and had the opportunity to work with some fantastic people. It also opened my eyes to the variety of ingredients, some of which I hadn?t come across before, and how to cook with them in different ways.
After my stint in the US, I worked as Head Chef at a restaurant back in my home county of Hampshire for a couple of years before I became Sous Chef at Hotel du Vin in Winchester. It was here where I met and worked with Matt Sussex, the Head Chef there at the time. He was someone who I looked up to and really taught me the way. He has worked with some really good Chefs in his time so working for him for the three years really boosted my confidence, knowledge and career. Especially as after he left Hotel du Vin, I was promoted to his position of Head Chef, a role in which I was able to practice everything I learnt and one that I stayed in for a further two years.
Always open to a challenge, in the Summer of 2011 I joined the Audleys Wood Hotel to launch The Simonds Room restaurant. This was my first fine dining role and one which was extremely successful. After four months in the position, we obtained our two AA rosette award, which was a huge achievement for me and for the hotel.
Beyond my formal career, I?ve catered for personal weddings up to 250 guests on my own and I?ve taken part in many cooking challenges and food demonstrations. Another exciting project that I was involved in was reaching the finalist stages of BBC?s MasterChef the Professionals.
It?s nearly 10 years ago now that I took part in MasterChef. Back then I was really young and naïve and never in a million years did I think I?d get to the television side of things, let alone the finals. After four interviews including presenting a dish to some initial judges, of which I chose to prepare locally sourced hot smoked trout, I was taken through to the first televised stage with some other contestants. Turning up at the studio on the first day, in fact the first time I?d ever walked onto a television set, was daunting but everyone was friendly and it was all very relaxed. What also put me at ease was that the studio set was exactly how you see it on the TV.
It was a great competition process and it pushed me and my development to lengths I had never previously reached. I knew that if I didn?t improve my cooking really, really quickly, I?d be going home. In that month or two months of filming, I improved significantly. What also helped and was a great eye opener, was having the opportunity to stage in a few restaurants with some amazing Michelin Star Chefs as part of the process.
The difference with some cookery programmes and MasterChef is that the other programmes will only pick out the harsh comments for television for pure entertainment purposes, whereas MasterChef includes a lot of the positive points too. It doesn?t stop there; there is a lot of footage that is edited out where the judges provide a lot more constructive feedback. The judges comments you see on TV are streamlined to less than half of the feedback you get on the day, which is fantastic for a chef. Especially as these judges are world renowned. They are not there to destroy people, they are there to encourage, grow and make chefs better. I don?t think there?s any other cooking programme like it. The one comment that I remember vividly was Michel Roux, who said my pork was cooked to perfection, rosé pink, but that it was my sauce that let me down.
So I got to the finals and as I always say, I was beaten by the winner. A couple of years older than me, the winner really deserved it. I was a 21 year old lad and so happy to get to where I did. Would I do it again? Never! The reason being, I got so far last time, if I didn?t do as well this time, I?d be absolutely gutted, especially after eight more years? experience.
Since MasterChef, I?ve always looked to the future and working at Aviator is very much part of this. I?m looking forward to putting my mark on the food here and transforming the Brasserie especially, into a leading food and beverage destination in North Hampshire. It?s all about where I am able to take the food, and overall dining experience at Aviator, forward with my experience, ideas and vision. What will help is firstly the kitchen, which in my opinion has to be one of the nicest equipped kitchens I?ve ever worked in and secondly my team. My kitchen team are a fantastic bunch to work with, committed, easy to work with and all working towards the same goal.
While I?m not very good at art in the traditional sense, I do consider cooking a form of art, and having trust in yourself and your team are key to this. Many kitchens work to standard operating procedures where all dishes must go out looking exactly the same. But for me, if you believe in that plate and you think it looks good, then that?s how it goes out. Sometimes, you can plate a dish up exactly how it looks in a photograph and for some reason it?s just not working and that?s what I hate about cooking, the formalities. I like to use my creativity. And yes that does involve some consistency, but if you trust the people you?re working with, I know that what they are going to produce is going to be right. That?s my approach to cooking; it doesn?t always have to look the same to be right. Your artichoke may be bigger than the last time or your tomato might be a different shape so I always tell my team, stop trying to make it look exactly the same and too perfect, do what is natural. Sometimes things look perfect but they are not when it comes to taste.
I?m all about classic cooking in a modern and unique way. It?s not what you would expect from a traditional Brasserie, it?s much more refined than that and I am finding different ways of presenting and showcasing it. Presentation is important for me but I am not a fan of the theatre and fanfare of food that you get with some high end establishments. For me, I prefer to let the food and ingredients do all the talking. I?ve tried fusion cooking from time to time, incorporating ingredients from other cultures into my own cooking but I will never claim to be a Thai chef or an Indian chef. I can do the bare minimum and make it taste nice but I leave those dishes to the experts.
A modern approach to classical cooking and simplicity are key for me. I spend an awful long time sourcing great, local produce so I want to showcase that on a plate and not take away from it or overdress it with theatrics. It?s also, all about the harmonising and balancing flavours, keeping it simple but showing that you?ve taken an extra consideration to modernise it. Take tartiflette for example. I?ve taken one of the most classic dishes from France, which is basically a gratin served in a bowl, and used exactly the same ingredients but refined it to more of a pressed terrine. The flavours are the same, the ingredients are the same, but I?ve just approached it a slightly more modern way.
My biggest culinary guilty pleasure? Well, chefs don?t eat very well so that?s easy; sweets – Refresher bars to be precise. When everyone else is eating, chefs are working and when it comes to the time for me to eat, it?s either too late or you lose the desire to want to cook something. But when I do have time off, I always try and cook a home cooked meal. I also love getting my children involved.
Since a very young age, I?ve encouraged all my children, two boys and one step daughter, to cook and think about the food they are eating. At the age of four for example, my step daughter could prepare a lobster. Other things we?ve done include filleting trout and plucking pheasants. It?s really important for me to get them involved. They more than anyone, are more critical and have already developed really good palates. They can quite easily distinguish a well-cooked meal, something which, as mentioned, I was also able to do as a child. But they also know how to use this to their advantage to gain something, as they often butter me up and tell me that I am the best cook in the world.
If I had to give any sort of advice to any budding chef, it would be to not be afraid to start from the bottom, experiment with food including blind tasting to really build up your skills, and, to source ideas and creativity, read plenty of magazines and books and visit new restaurants, I never visit the same restaurant twice! Even if your approach to cooking is quite classical, like mine, you still have to continue to keep innovating to stay in the game and maintain that competitive edge.
More from this issue
On The Menu