The Great British Menu star tells us how he adapted to home delivery
When I call Adam Reid, he's in the kitchen. The conversation is peppered with the sounds of timers beeping, peelers peeling and trays clattering - like a culinary 12 days of Christmas.
His new-normal routine of prepping, cooking and packaging menu boxes over three days may sound easier than what he’s used to when running his eponymous Four Rosette restaurant at The Midland but his shifts still regularly span 8 am til midnight, depending on how much he’s ‘stiffed himself’ devising that week’s menu.
I’d rather give you more and have you feel like it’s really good value for money than feel stingy
Menu Box By Adam Reid is an at-home dining experience from the executive chef. The box is pitched as a superior alternative to your Saturday night takeaway: designed and prepped by Adam, finished at home by you. The three-course (plus bread) menus change weekly with dishes such as white onion and cider soup with Mrs Kirkham’s cheese, Goosnargh duck breast and confit leg with pickled pear, or garlic and herb roasted chicken with barley stew. The bread is from Pollen with chef's famous beef-dripping butter to be slathered on thickly, and desserts include things like tipsy rhubarb cake or treacle tart all elevated beyond what those simple descriptions might imply.
“I’m working with what’s around. Most suppliers are operating on limited product lines. If there are no restaurants open, there’s not much point in the companies that supply them being open. My main fish supplier in Cornwall always closes for Christmas and has decided not to reopen yet.”
Indeed, the closure of your local restaurant doesn’t just affect the restaurant and its staff but so many other businesses down the supply chain.
“Restaurants are just the coalface. The industry as a whole is so much bigger than that. They’re struggling even more than we are. We’ve got furlough and grants because we’ve been told to shut. The supplier may be able to furlough some of the staff but if they shut it’s their own choice. There’s just no support for them.
“I’m doing this for my own benefit mainly, but it has a ripple effect in terms of the suppliers. If we can keep things going to some extent, it’s positive for everybody.”
Adam’s Great British Menu box - with dishes from his appearance on the show - was launched back in June. While he wasn’t the first to launch a cook-at-home kit, he was the first in Manchester to go nationwide with delivery and his initial run sold out within minutes of going live.
“I know it sounds flippant, but we saw people doing it and thought it’d be a great idea for people’s morale. The GBM box was an experience for people who follow the restaurant and what I’m up to. They were flying out the door. I didn’t expect it to go like that. We dabbled with doing a few other options but with restaurants reopening in July, everybody thought the eat-at-home thing was done and dusted.
“We were planning to reopen The French in September but the hotel had started a massive refurb of the lounge and lobby and were so behind with contractors and suppliers. For a restaurant like us, there’s only a certain amount of walking through a building site that people will accept. We physically couldn’t open until October. Then we had a full month of really positive, brilliant business. We’re already focused on doing fewer covers, higher quality, but now we’re a 20-cover restaurant midweek and 30 at the weekend. In Manchester terms, that’s tiny. We’re a Four Rosette restaurant but it’s even more of an experience now. Everybody that came absolutely loved it and then they closed everything again.”
The reopening of restaurants doesn’t look likely any time soon.
“You’ve got to plan for the worst-case scenario. If you’re planning on opening before April, you’re a bit crazy. Be ready, but don’t plan for it. Everyone’s got a bit savvy to it now. The Government and Boris are trying to stay positive and not give up hope. Rather than being pragmatic and realistic and going, ‘Look guys, you’ll probably be shut for 6-12 months’, they keep everybody hanging on. What we need in hospitality is clarity.”
Did he worry about how home cooks would manage to prepare his menus?
“I learned from doing the GBM menu in the summer. Because it was the Great British Menu, people were happy with that little bit of extra work. Everything was prepped but there’s a certain amount of finishing that you can’t avoid. The fish dish - one of the simpler ones - is a prime example. You had to poach the fish, deep fry the fritter, cook the leeks and warm the sauce up. It doesn’t sound too much on paper but in a domestic kitchen - I tried to explain to people, just use a pan then wash it out and use it for the next thing, but nobody does. They just grab the next pan. It’s like working with a thousand commis. When I did the Saturday night one in November, I streamlined it. It’s supposed to be like getting a special occasion takeaway for a Saturday night in. You’re not going to turn up with it in a bag, open up the plastic box and then eat it. You’ve got to do a bit of work yourself but the quality is ten times better. The main ‘work’ is in plating it up.”
I tried one of the new Saturday night boxes and it was beautifully effortless. The menu is slightly pared-back compared to the Great British Menu version - but just as indulgent. The ingredients and attention to detail shine.
“I’m a bit pedantic. I refine things to the point that I overdo it. I think about what’s easiest for me when I’m doing it but also what might be a bit more effort for me but will make it so much easier for you at home. The worst thing for me is the vac packing but I know that when it turns up, the finish is so much better than a thousand plastic pots. The bags are still plastic but I don’t want to be sending out hundreds of thousands of plastic pots all the time. I don’t think it’s very responsible. All the packaging is plain brown cardboard as much, as we can, so it’s all recyclable. I’ve approached it as a product that I could refine. It’s not just a stopgap that I’ll do the cheapest and easiest way that I can until lockdown’s over."
The boxes have been extremely well-received, the only problem being the couriers.
“Before Christmas, they were an absolute nightmare. We'd get between a 10 and 20 percent failure on delivery. We'd ring the courier because a customer said it hadn't arrived and, if we could get through to somebody, we'd find it’s supposed to be in Middleton and it’s in Cannock. The problem is, it’s perishable. We put enough ice in to cover it for 48 hours so if it turns up on the Saturday it’s be ok but we try and get it there for the Friday. Every now and again I’d have somebody ring me up on a Tuesday and go, it’s just arrived. I’d be like, ‘God! Throw it away!’ If it doesn’t arrive when we say it’s going to, we tell people not to eat it and normally offer to replace it the week after or offer a gift voucher for the same value.”
The project will continue until March but Adam hopes it has the legs to continue.
“I enjoy doing them. I’ve tried to create a quality product in its own right. I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as restaurants open, we go back to life as normal. They’re already saying we may have measures brought in next winter if this rears its head again. People have got a taste for it now as well. They might want to go out on a Saturday night but can’t be bothered going to an actual restaurant. My aim would be to set it up as its own entity.”
Dainty portions spread over a long evening are fine in a fancy restaurant with the music and ambience and everything else. At home, two tablespoons of soup in a shot glass isn’t going to cut it. Adam’s clear about his aims.
“The box is not the Four Rosette restaurant experience. It’s more like if I opened a casual dining option. You’re getting the same ingredients, same quality, same flavour but done a bit simpler and a bit heartier. I always worry that I’m doing the portions too small so you can imagine how much I struggle running a Four Rosette restaurant. I’m trying to do everything petite and refined but I just want to put a sodding great dollop of meat on the plate with sauce. I’d rather give you more and have you feel like it’s really good value for money than feel stingy.”
“In the restaurant, it’s all geared around how I want you to experience it. Send something to someone’s house and I don’t have any control over it. You see chefs doing a six-course at-home menu, they’re just trying to replicate the restaurant. If anything, that’s going to give people a bad impression. That’s why it’s called Menu Box By Adam Reid rather than ‘The French by Adam Reid at home’. I would like to hope, though, that the food I send in those boxes to people’s houses is as good if not better than a lot of restaurants in Manchester.”
“I am cooking in the same way that I would at the restaurant. I’m not using any substandard ingredients. Where in the restaurant you’d get six or seven courses of refined, flavour-packed food, you’re getting that in three dishes.”
I can confirm the food is seriously rich. In the menu box I tried, there was more cheese scattered on the soup than you’d get on a cheeseboard at a posh restaurant, and a great hunk of belly pork with skin that puffed up into the ultimate crackling after just a short blast in the oven served over a hazelnut, mushroom and barley stew.
“I want to give you a lot of a good thing on each course. In the restaurant, each course should leave you wanting a bit more. By the time you get to the end of the meal it’s just enough. With the menu boxes, I want there to be plenty."
What does Adam say to people who think it’s expensive - at £90 a box for two people?
“I’m not just turning up with a load of ingredients and dumping them on your doorstep. You’ve got prep, delivery, packaging. It’s the same as with the restaurant. If somebody says they’ve never been because it’s too expensive, I’d say, well it’s probably a good idea you’ve never come. If you’re not willing to spend money on something of quality, you’re frankly not going to understand what I do anyway. The value for money is inherent in what we do. It’s like they say in the jewellers: if you have to ask how much it is - well.”
When you order Adam Reid’s menu box, you’re not just paying for impeccable ingredients but the skill and creativity of a chef at the top of his game preparing it all for you. It’s a unique opportunity to get your hands on some incredible food from one of the best chefs in the country.
You can order Menu Box By Adam Reid here including a pre-order for a special Valentines box.