Richard (Rab) Adams graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London with a Diplôme de Cuisine in 2013. Rab opened Hern two years ago, a small neighbourhood restaurant in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, where he offers a set menu. His menus focus on seasonal products which are at their best whilst also minimising waste.
Rab grew up in the north-east of Scotland, and originally studied Physics at university, going on to work in the oil and gas sector before he started cooking aged 26. Here, Rab talks to us about his culinary journey so far.
What drove you to study the culinary arts?
"I moved back to Edinburgh (where I studied) in 2010. I had a good job and some disposable income for the first time, so I ended up eating out a lot and buying nice products to cook with at home. I just got more and more into it. Food was never important for me before. It's a bit strange to think about to be honest. When I started to read about self-taught, late-starter chefs like Fergus Henderson (St John) and Inaki Aizpatarte (Le Chateaubriand), something clicked and I realised I could do this as a career if I really wanted to."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"I didn't want to stay where I was and just get a job in a kitchen. I was taking the idea of a new career quite seriously so I knew I had to go to London at least, have a complete change of scene and get in somewhere which was a good level, either a restaurant or cooking school. I had some money saved so I opted for Le Cordon Bleu, but just the Diplôme de Cuisine. I knew I'd have to work on the side!"
How did the knowledge gained from the Diplôme de Cuisine help your career?
"It's so thoroughly ingrained that I can't really overestimate how much it has helped me. Even when I'm just chopping an onion or doing chicken butchery it's in the background somewhere. It was a time of intense learning for me with classes at Le Cordon Bleu, working part-time in restaurant kitchens and also in terms of discussions with my new peers."
What would you say is your most valuable learning experience so far?
"Probably when I realised that my previous career and life experience gave me an advantage as a chef, and that I hadn't wasted my time because I didn't start in a kitchen at 16 like a lot of others. It took me a long time to realise this!"
What would you say the best thing is about being a chef?
"Sometimes (maybe once a week) I look into the dining room when it's full and I just have this bizarre sensation like: I can't believe all these strangers came to eat the food I made. We have a set menu which changes every day and we don't put menus online beforehand. It sort of blows my mind people come to my restaurant at all. It definitely makes it feel real."
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"Get experience at the highest level you can. Don't give up on a bad day but as soon as you know something isn't for you don't waste any more time on it. I would hate to give too much advice based on my career; I have definitely had some false steps along the way!"
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one word?
What does your average day look like?
"The first hour involves drinking coffee, feeding my daughter and dog and trying to catch up with my wife. I drive 30 mins to get to work. I work about 14 hours a day but we're only open 4 days a week. At work I spend 99% of my time in the kitchen, in prep and in service. All the other stuff generally gets done on the days we are shut. Front of house come in at about 3pm, we eat staff food at 5pm. I usually make the staff food. Sometimes we open wines to try if there's new stuff on the list, or just because it's nice to drink wine with food. First table is usually 6.30pm and the last usually 8.30pm. We all finish and go home, we don't have a drinks-after-work culture really. I would say I am mainly focused on making the workplace good, then everyone can have their own time to themselves when they are done with work!"
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
"Probably managing staff. Either that or the endless admin, laundry, ordering, VAT, accounts, payroll, PR etc. which inevitably eat into all the “spare” hours you have and take you away from actually cooking."
What inspires you every day?
"Really good quality products and trying to approach those products from a new direction. If I figure out how to make something tasty out of something that was going to go in the bin, that's also cool."
What part of your role are you most passionate about?
"I think a lot about the experience of my employees. I want to retain staff and I spend a lot of time thinking about what is fair or right in terms of things like working hours, pay, tips, staff food etc. rather than what I have experienced in my career or what is considered normal. I want my staff to do other stuff than just come to work."
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"I just want to fill the restaurant every day and also make the restaurant sustainable in all senses: for staff, for me and for the environment. I have no plans to do anything bigger than Hern but I sometimes think about doing something even smaller."
Find out more about our professional cookery courses and other culinary programmes to see how you can follow in Rab's footsteps.