Words and images by John Hersey
Making a bold impression on Cornwall’s north coast culinary scene.
Adam Banks has graced some truly incredible restaurants with his presence; an impressive decade (and then some) under the wing of Jamie Oliver at his legendary beach-fronted Fifteen was more than signiﬁcant to Adam, in and out of the kitchen. A bold impression has also been made by Adam, in some of Melbourne’s ﬁnest restaurants, as well as experience in Copenhagen’s 108, sister restaurant to the three Michelin-starred Noma, and Christian Puglisi’s Relae, which both boast worldwide recognition, and ‘cut edge’ to say the very least.
Adam describes his ﬁrst day working for Jamie Oliver in 2006 as the day he knew he wanted to dive deep into Italian cooking; “The produce that we worked with was at such a high level, just working there for that ﬁrst day inspired my drive and love for Italian cooking.” There is no doubt that it wasn’t just the cooking that has shaped this chef, his temperament, kindness and commitment to quality is very reminiscent of the qualities we see in the household name that is Jamie. Adam adds: “Although I don’t always cook in a classic Italian way – I’ve introduced some Scandinavian skills to my cooking – my values will always turn towards Italian food combinations and simplicity. I have Jamie Oliver to thank for bringing that style of food to my attention.” More recently, Christian Puglisi has been at the forefront of Adam’s inspiration list; with an ethos described as ‘no fuss no muss’ his style is creative, artful and understated. Christian has spent time at both El Bulli and Noma, two of the most inﬂuential restaurants of our age, and is now running his own farm, alongside a bakery and pizzeria; he’s clearly not alone in re-thinking the context of his energies and supply of food to his diners.
In absolute embracement of our rapidly changing world, Adam has also steadily withdrawn himself from the traditional restaurant scene, and is now a somewhat feral chef, based in an industrial unit on the outskirts of Newquay. Without the glamour and theatre of a traditional high-end restaurant, the focus is sharply set on the food, and this is clearly interpreted as a relief to Adam rather than a hindrance.
The shutters rise and reveal a meticulously prepared kitchen, a jewel of the estate, dappled in morning light. The pasta machine is shining in its place of utmost importance at the centre of the space, like a carpenter’s bench clamp, ready to engineer the rested dough into elegant, perfect lengths of workable fresh pasta, destined for satisfying plates.
The pandemic brought opportunity for Adam to bring his career back to the absolute basics, out of the restaurant space and into his own kitchen. Distilling his menu down to one or two dishes a week, and delivering himself by hand to his clients’ homes for them to put the ﬁnishing touches to themselves and serve on their own plates. Adam’s delivery service quickly captured an audience and soon evolved from a couple of dozen boxes, to a full scale operation, seeing Adam darting round the neighbourhood with ample boxes of perfectly presented dishes, each signed oﬀ by hand with chef’s notes.
Naturally, his oﬀering is evolving at pace, and with this fresh, unleashed format, Adam serves his food at private events, niche corporate gatherings, and special dinners around Cornwall, in locations ranging from restored farmhouses, neighbourhood restaurants and prestigious art galleries. Working with long term collaborator, Perry, of Newquay’s aspirational and masterfully curated MMW, the events are supplied with consistently surprising and fascinating wine oﬀerings, perfectly paired. The experience and quest for the edge of expectations brings elements of discovery to the dining and comfort outside of the traditional zone. There is a poetic nature to the food, his delicate, kind and gentle approach to selecting ingredients always juxtaposed with bold, dynamic ﬂavours. Adam embraces tradition, particularly from Italy; his dishes are not only a great pleasure to eat, but each come with a story, a respect to the predecessors and masters of the craft from days gone by. An ongoing regular commute to Italy is really important to this process. On every trip, he explores diﬀerent regions of the country where he unpacks the diversity in ingredients and the unique approach each place incorporates into its traditions, with both intrigue to where ideas came from, and insight as to where they are going.
Puglia has been of signiﬁcant inspiration to Adam in recent years. The region is the epicentre of Italy’s olive oil and durum wheat production, with such a unique climate these delectable treasures are so diverse and complex in their story that a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to discover the variety and subtleties in the oﬀerings. Bread, ﬂour, pasta, oil, and burata are far more signiﬁcant than the blank canvas status they are often assigned. Stale bread for example is a key ingredient in Adam’s ribolitta which, with his handmade pici pasta, is prepared with just four simple ingredients; black pepper, lemon, butter and pecorino, all barely processed and always in delicately allocated quantities, giving them space to sing at their own volumes. Perfectly balanced on the palate in Adam’s signature style, the result is comforting, rustic, and undoubtably endorsed by the experience of an open mind.
It’s clear that there are bottles of olive oil and bags of select ﬂour in Adam’s larder that he treats as prized possessions. Subtleties, that many people wouldn’t even notice, become part of critical decisions in the dishes and these subtle and extensively researched elements seem to be the glue that holds the cooking together. There are no shortcuts to the cooking. The dishes pride themselves on integrity to the ingredients and the energy of the hands and heart of the growers that produce them. Often humble ingredients like cauliﬂower, semolina, cabbage and beans take centre stage in dishes that are delicate, nostalgic, humble and memorable. Adam’s relationship with the farmers of the ingredients in his dishes are imperative in his story and to the ﬂavours he weaves together like watercolour. The freedom in his sourcing enables him to work closely through the seasons to ensure that what is on the plate is respective of the season, of nature, and of the landscape in which he resides.
Notably, his relationships with growers, barely outside of his postcode, are an ecosystem in themselves. You get the feeling when talking to him that these relationships enhance his empathy to the soil and sun under which the produce grows and are equally as vital as the craft of curating those delectable treats of the earth onto the plate. Paul Salmon of Newlina Eco Gardens (St Newlyn East), and Meg Travis of One Field Farm (Crantock) are two of Adam’s closest collaborators. Like Adam, both of these radicals put the earth, and the wellness of the hands that farm it, at the centre of their purpose. There is more to this farming than just producing food; these people operate with an integrity, transparency and grace so honourable and inspiring, absolutely unafraid to challenge conventional farming systems and putting progress and integrity before proﬁt. There is something so utterly sublime and humbling about tasting food created in this way – a joy, satisfaction and nuance that makes unconscious food consumption seem futile.
Dining together is so imperative to our culture, and the extensive variety of chefs, concepts and innovations in Cornwall’s food scene are constantly challenged to adapt and realign with the social and economic conditions. Adam is just one of a very generous handful of the county’s food pioneers who continue to entertain and satisfy mouths, souls and collectives in the Cornish community. Food, the way we eat, who we eat with and who cooks for us is more than just the satisfaction of the bite, it’s a metaphorical mirror to who we are, where we’re at and where we’re heading – a mindful check-in to the tone of our lives.
I know I’m not alone in wanting to shine a light upon and honour the heroes of the industry that feeds us and hosts our gatherings. It’s time now, more than ever, to celebrate, champion and keep these food heroes, chefs, producers and hospitality staﬀ on a deserving pedestal, to be a community that stays committed to their journeys as they evolve, to keep exploring and to create an economy and safe space for our chefs and growers.