Chef Jerry Adam is producing light, simple dishes showcasing local Welsh produce with Asian influences at the Swan at Hay in Hay-on-Wye. Katherine Price reports
The majority of people who have heard of Hay-on-Wye know it for its books. The small market town on the English/Welsh border with a population just north of 1,500 has more than 40 bookshops, and for 10 days each year is flooded with more than 85,000 people from all over the world attending its annual literary festival.
Adam has been the head chef of the 19-bedroom, four-AA-starred Swan at Hay hotel for the past year. Just one month after the hotel relaunched in February 2017 following a £2m refurbishment, he earned two AA rosettes.
Still just 27, Adam has a CV that reads like a map of some of the best restaurants in the South West and Wales: Llangoed Hall, Ynyshir, the Bath Priory and the Queensberry hotel in Bath. A sous chef and a 16-year-old commis make up his brigade, and he admits that recruitment has been hard, especially with no awards to act as a talent magnet - until now.
Between the three of them, they oversee the hotel's 30-cover Garden Room restaurant, a 25-cover bar and the functions. The restaurant initially had to stay quiet during the refurbishment but is now bringing in approximately 15 for lunch, and 20 to 25 for dinner service and functions nearly every weekend.
"We've picked up massively," says Adam. "Since reopening we've probably picked up 200% - it's crazy."
However, the hotel and restaurant still rely more heavily on business from visitors rather than locals because of a long-standing image problem, which they're trying to combat. "I think the locals have lost trust in it. We're trying to win them back; it's a hard task," Adam admits.
He hopes to get them through the doors again with a menu of mix and match flavours, techniques and cultures - especially Asian flavours such as miso and soy - and by taking inspiration from his former mentors."The flavour side of things I take everything off Gareth \Ward\], but the way I cook is off Sean \[Hope\] and Nick \[Brodie\]," he says. They are the head chefs of Ynyshir, the Olive Branch in Rutland and Llangoed Hall respectively. Foremost in importance for him are local ingredients and suppliers: asparagus and rhubarb from Wye Valley Produce; leaves from Lane Cottage Produce; Morgans Family Butchers in Brecon; and the Welsh Venison Centre. Even his crockery is from a local craft store just down the road called the Hay Makers, where he met potter Pauline Paterson, who now supplies the restaurant's plates. The team has also been making the most of wild garlic, wood sorrel, elderflower, elderberries and rosehips in the local area by foraging. "It builds the bond between the team - going out, picking some flowers," laughs Adam. He starts his dish development with seasonal vegetables rather than meat or fish, and wants all the focus to be on flavour rather than fullness, so he sticks to small portions and avoids too many carbohydrates to ensure diners don't get bored or too full. His prawn, pink peanut, beansprout, coriander and lime starter "flies out", he says, "probably because it's a little bit different". The prawn is kept under light until it hits room temperature and then quickly chargrilled. It is then paired with a sauce made from ginger, chilli, shallot, lime leaf, fish sauce, soy sauce and coconut milk, which is reduced and blitzed; peanuts toasted and deglazed with sugar and fish sauce; raw beansprouts; and coriander oil. It's all fairly simple - but then that's how he likes his food. "I think a lot of chefs overcomplicate things nowadays," says Adam. "It takes away what it is. If you keep stuff nice and simple but everything tastes really good, then you can't go wrong. It's harder to make things simple than it is to overcomplicate things." s favourite dish to cook is a passionfruit curd, coconut, meringue and yoghurt dessert. It is a simple passionfruit curd, passionfruit glaze of reduced caramel and passionfruit juice, meringue spread thinly onto a dehydrated tray and crisped to form shards, and a yoghurt sorbet made from yoghurt, syrup, a little bit of salt and citric acid and freshly grated coconut - although he's keen to get playing with nitrogen instead. At the time of Adam's interview with *The Caterer*, the annual Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts is a matter of just weeks away, and by the time of going to press it will have begun. Adam says that last year he was covering up to 100 for lunch and 70 for dinner every day with just one kitchen porter. It was, he says, "the hardest 10 days of my life". This time around, the festival is expected to bring in big business and even more celebrity faces to the Swan since its relaunch. From the menuStarters •Cod flakes, fermented pineapple, broccoli stem •Lamb sweetbreads, gooseberry, pickled wild garlic flowers, hazelnut •Prawn, pink peanut, beansprout, coriander, lime •Salt-baked celeriac, smoked eel, fermented rye, mace Mains •Welsh black beef cheek, parsley, dulse, sea lettuce •Salmon, black bean, pickled cucumber, crisp skin •Crisp tofu, celery, mushroom, hemp Desserts •White chocolate Aero, kombu granita, spirulina •Passionfruit curd, coconut, meringue, yoghurt •Caramel, verjus, golden raisin, cocoa nib •Chestnut, Cremovo, 100% Valrhona, chocolate tofu Three courses £40 per person Nine-course tasting menu £75 per person The Swan at Hay Church Street, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5DQ [www.swanathay.comSave