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Chef Adam Byatt: 10 secrets to a long, successful career

19 February 2016 by
Chef Adam Byatt: 10 secrets to a long, successful career

Adam Byatt, chef-owner of Trinity and Bistro Union in London's Clapham, appears on the cover of this week's The Caterer, talking about how opening his new Trinity Upstairs venture has re-energised his love of cooking.

With a 20-year career, full of ups, downs, Michelin-starred chefs and triumphant and varied restaurant openings, it's no surprise he's full of gems of wisdom on how to maintain a successful career in this competitive industry. Here are his top 10.

1. Never stop looking for perfection

Byatt's new place has a daily-changing menu of small plates that complements the higher-end offer at the original Trinity downstairs. He has so far created 400 new dishes for Upstairs, and only liked 20 of them enough to "bank" them for the future.

2. Embrace spontaneity

The menu at Upstairs changes every day, including dishes such as barbecue octopus and hummus; fregola salad, with pomegranate, smoked aubergine and grilled squid, or BBQ pork belly, with cockles, saffron and black olives. The produce is varied and the plates as original as they are tasty.

"Upstairs has given me a rejuvenation," he says. "There is an enthusiasm that is new."

Similarly, Trinity also has planning permission for the top, third floor of the site, and there are murmurings of opening three letting bedrooms. It's that innovation that drives Trinity forward.

3. Keep trusted staff with you

Trinity Upstairs' restaurant manager, Matthew Hartzenberg, has been with Byatt for six years,meaning that he understands how Byatt works and is totally in his element heading up the new operation. Many of Byatt's staff have stuck around, largely thanks to the chef's commitment to making them feel like an integral part of the business. Hartzenberg moves around the dining room with warmth and grace, and his experience shows.

4. Learn from past setbacks

Byatt famously opened Thyme at the Hospital in central London in 2004, with then-business partner Adam Oates, and was left crestfallen and exhausted when it eventually closed. However, he is candid about how the experience has worked in his favour.

"Without what happened there, there's no way Trinity would have been the success it was," he says, honestly. "It was the most painful period of my life, but I found a great business partner and never looked back. In lots of ways, it was the best thing that could have happened."

5. Know what you love, and stick to it

As he's got more popular and well-known, Byatt has embraced the opportunities of a wider media career, writing books and appearing on television every now and again. However, it's cooking in the kitchen that he really loves.

"There are people that at 6pm on a Friday want to be with their mates, but to be honest, I'd rather be right here, about to cook 40 covers. That's what I get out of bed for; that's what keeps me alive."

6. Find passion in the everyday

For a chef as accomplished as Byatt, it could be tempting to try to experiment with a kitchen full of new kit and gadgets. But at Upstairs, one of Byatt's favourite pieces of kit is the primitive-style charcoal Robata grill. He says: "We've got waterbaths and stuff, but I love just cooking over wood. Lots of things taste great under charcoal; it brings an earthy richness."

7. Be open to new opportunities

Byatt has recently begun working with foodservice company Bartlett Mitchell, which sees him working with chef-director Pete Redman to deliver dish consultancy, masterclasses, food demonstrations and events. "I was approached by Bartlett Mitchell and thought they were a spectacular operator," he says. "Wendy Bartlett is an inspirational lady. It's an honour."

Similarly, he has been co-chair of the kitchen at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts' Annual Awards of Excellence for the past five years, and is careful to train his staff well, from commis upwards.

8. Learn when to carry on, and when enough is enough

A full decade ago, Byatt told The Caterer that he wanted to stand back from the kitchen, and take a more managerial approach to his businesses. However, he's actually never done that, preferring to stay behind the pass, developing dishes and mentoring staff. What happened?

"I never found the right person to take over," he says, "I just wanted to carry on. One of the key focuses for me was to get to a point where I can still cook everyday and get some kind of work-life balance."

And he's so confident in his abilities that he is happy to let the food speak for itself. One of the most popular desserts at Trinity is the salt caramel ice cream, which is simply that, and little else.

9. Try to spot trends before they happen

Although Trinity Upstairs focuses on small plates - like every new restaurant in the country, it seems - Byatt is careful to point out that he was cooking in a similar way over ten years ago at his Thyme site in Clapham, which opened in 2001. "I changed the menu every day and just cooked what I wanted," he says, although he admits that it was a little "haphazard" and that Upstairs is "more controlled".

10. Stay humble

"I'm still flabbergasted that people still wanted to eat my food," he says. "There is nothing better than going home knowing that you've got three restaurants rammed full of happy guests…It's a privilege."

Read more, see more, and find out more about Adam Byatt's new site, Trinity Upstairs, in this week's copy of The Caterer magazine!

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