We Grill – Adam Harper
At just 26 Adam Harper is the head chef at Rowley’s, a village pub in Baslow, Derbyshire. After moving across from its sister Michelin-starred restaurant Fischer’s at Baslow Hall, Adam’s fine dining background enables him, and his team of five, to wow diners at Rowley’s by using the best local produce with simple presentation and an emphasis on bringing out the flavour of individual ingredients.
Tell us about Rowley’s…
We aim to be a pub but with posh food; so a posh pub I suppose! People can come and have a drink and a sandwich or enjoy a three-course dinner. Everything I learnt about producing a fine dining menu at Fischer’s goes into my creations at Rowley’s – it’s just not as refined. We serve what people want: uncomplicated, fresh, tasty food – it’s that simple really. Our pricing is fair and by the numbers we attract, we are clearly doing something right.
What are the menu options?
Our lunch menu consists of sandwiches, burgers and light bites or a three-course set menu for £21 which is really popular and great value. In the evening we go a little more upmarket with dishes such as cod baked in a hazelnut pesto sauce served with a red wine and brown butter sauce, olive oil-roasted potatoes and green vegetables for those that want something a bit more special. However, our fish and chips and steak are equally as popular for those who want a decent pub dish.
What dishes are popular in autumn?
We change our menu every six to eight weeks to make sure our ingredients and dishes are seasonal. However, one thing we serve masses of at this time of year is game – it literally flies off the menu! It’s one of the best things about Rowley’s – we have so many shoots on our doorstep that we receive the game the following day – so it’s as fresh as it can be. We use pheasant, partridge, rabbit and venison – basically, anything we can get our hands on! We also use a lot of grouse, which is very popular. I cook it on the crown and leave it to rest in the oven before removing it from the bone and serving it with a blackberry sauce, creamy savoy cabbage, mash puree and roasted veg.
What is your career history?
I started an apprenticeship when I was 16 at The Plough Inn at Hathersage before moving to Fischer’s two years later as a commis chef gaining my level 3 qualification. I decided to spread my wings to gain more experience so went to The French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, followed by The Samuel Fox in Bradwell before returning to Fischer’s as a junior sous chef in 2013. Then, in March 2015, the head chef position came available at Rowley’s.
How did your love of food develop?
I got a part-time waiting-on job at The Plough Inn while I was still in school. I then decided to dye my hair bright red and as a result I was sent to work (out of sight) as a pot washer in the kitchen – a decision that turned me into a chef! As I was in the kitchen, I had the chance to watch the chefs at work, and I was in awe as I watched how the dishes were created and the concepts and techniques that went into them. Seeing my interest, they gave me the chance to prep, and I loved it; I knew then that becoming a chef was the career path for me. At the time I thought dying my hair was a reckless move however now I’m eternally grateful for my fashion faux pas!
Which chefs have inspired you?
I know it sounds corny but it’s Max Fischer and Rupert Rowley – the head chefs and co-owners of Fischer’s and Rowley’s. They took me on as an apprentice and it’s thanks to their teaching and belief in me that I am where I am today.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Stick at it! It can be a tough industry to work in but it is a well-rewarded one; especially if you’re passionate – you have to love it. Don’t listen to negativity around the long hours involved as it’s not necessarily the case now. The industry is changing and if you find the right place to work then you won’t be working a gruelling 17 hours a day. Rowley’s is like a family, so I’m lucky to have a balance between work and life, and that’s what I try and instill in the students I teach at Buxton College at the University of Derby. The industry needs more chefs and this way students realise it’s an appealing career path to join.
What would be your last meal?
Heinz tomato soup and a cheese sandwich. You can’t beat it!
How are your Christmas preparations coming along?
Good! Our menus have been launched and we are offering the works with turkey and all the trimmings, and our Christmas puds are all ready – we made them at the end of July. December is without doubt our busiest month; we are booked everyday with lunches and parties. I don’t hire any extra staff, as I believe by being efficient and organised we don’t need any. I just tell my team that it’s the same thing we do everyday, just a little busier! And as a thank you to them, we are closed on Christmas Day itself – something both me and the team greatly appreciate!