Adam Jackson - the unsung king of the kitchen who taught Tommy Banks to cook

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He taught Tommy Banks his trade and got the Black Swan at Oldstead its Michelin star, but what has he been doing since? Catherine Scott meets Adam Jackson as he takes over at the Feversham Arms in Helmsley.

There is a new partnership that has got Yorkshire’s culinary world buzzing. Adam Jackson has joined the Feversham Arms Hotel in Helmsley as executive chef. Talk to anyone in the know about food and they will rave about Yorkshire chef Jackson. You may not have heard of him. He doesn’t do television shows or court celebrity fame, he just quietly gets on with his business, cooking amazing food. As such, he is to many the unsung hero of the Yorkshire food scene.

Chef Adam Jackson at the Feversham Arms Helmsley. Picture Tony Johnson

Chef Adam Jackson at the Feversham Arms Helmsley. Picture Tony Johnson

The same goes in many ways for his new project, at the Feversham Arms. The boutique hotel and spa has had many rave reviews over the years, and seems to have everything but never quite gets the plaudits it deserves. But group general manager Ingo Wiangke and Jackson are on a mission to change all that.

In 2011, Jackson was the chef that earned the Black Swan at Oldstead the accolade of being the first pub in Yorkshire to get three AA rosettes, followed in 2012 by a coveted Michelin star – not an easy feat for a pub in the middle of nowhere – which it maintained the following year. “It was a lifelong ambition to win a star – I owe quite a lot to the Banks family. They were very supportive while I was there,” says Jackson.

When he left, his apprentice Banks took over and retained the Black Swan’s star and in doing so became the youngest chef in the UK to have a Michelin star. Appearances on The Great British Menu and other television shows followed and Banks quickly gained celebrity chef status.

“I am really pleased for Tommy,” says Jackson. “Tom and Anne [Mr and Mrs Banks senior] believed in me and gave me my break at the Black Swan and the opportunity to create something special there and I will always be grateful.

Chef Adam Jackson who has taken over as executive chef at  Feversham Arms Hotel Helmsley.'Picture Tony Johnson

Chef Adam Jackson who has taken over as executive chef at Feversham Arms Hotel Helmsley.'Picture Tony Johnson

“Tommy has gone on to do great things, especially using all the produce they grow on the farm at Oldstead, although it does soemtimes get to me when everyone refers to him as ‘self-taught chef’,” says quietly spoken Jackson.

“I don’t regret leaving the Black Swan when I did. Tommy’s family owned it and he was always going to want to run the kitchen. He had a similar vision for the Black Swan but there could only be one person in charge in the kitchen and I wanted to go and do my own thing and it was the right time to go. I am immensely proud of what they have achieved there.”

Jackson was born in the North East but moved to Yorkshire when he was two, going to school in Easingwold. “As a child I loved cooking,” recalls Jackson, who now loves to cook with his own son, two-year-old Eddie. “My mum loved cooking, she had a real passion for Italian food and has always made the best tiramisu. It was only later in life that she discovered she was half Italian. She was adopted and it turned out that her birth father had been an Italian prisoner of war. Cooking must be in our genes.”

He never doubted that he wanted to be a chef when he grew up and after leaving school went to catering college in York and then did an apprenticeship at the Packet Inn in Fulford, York. He then moved to the Worsley Arms in Hovingham where he got his first head chef appointment aged just 21, gaining the pub two AA rosettes. It was while at another pub, the Rose and Crown, in Sutton on the Forest, that he got a call out of the blue from Tom Banks senior. “Their head chef was leaving and he had recommended that they talk to me,” says Jackson.

Adam Jackson helped The Black Swan at Oldstead win 3 rosettes and a Michelin star pictured celebrating their award is  partners  James Banks (left) and Tommy Banks (right)

Adam Jackson helped The Black Swan at Oldstead win 3 rosettes and a Michelin star pictured celebrating their award is partners James Banks (left) and Tommy Banks (right)

It was 2008, he was 28 and full of ideas. So he took a rundown village pub and created a Michelin-starred restaurant. After deciding to leave Oldstead, Jackson didn’t really know what to do next, although he knew he wanted to run his own business,

He took over what was the tearoom in Sutton Park stately home, near York, with his partner and created fine-dining restaurant The Park in the evening when the tearooms closed. The tasting menu immediately won praise but the size of the restaurant meant the inspectors didn’t believe Jackson would stick around for long and so he never regained the Michelin star he achieved at the Black Swan.

“We were visited almost immediately we opened in 2013 by the Michelin inspectors,” he recalls.

After two years there he moved The Park restaurant to the HRH group-run Marmadukes Town House Hotel in York city centre. Plaudits followed Jackson, who once again built the business up with three AA rosettes, but still no Michelin star. “Maybe it was because we were in a hotel setting, but I stopped worrying about it,” says Jackson who is married to midwife Louise and they have three children between them.

Adam Jackson has big plans for the Feversham Arms. Picture Tony Johnson

Adam Jackson has big plans for the Feversham Arms. Picture Tony Johnson

“For me it is all about giving our customers consistently great food, it is all about the produce. I am not a television personality, although I had been asked to do The Great British Menu while I was at the Black Swan. I’m an cook’s cook. It has never been my main driving factor, although it is the one thing everyone in the business wants, as it allows your business to expand. But if I don’t get another Michelin star because I haven’t been on TV, then I think the whole system is wrong.

“We just wanted to make sure that every year we got better, we had so many regular customers, many who had been with us for seven years. We had a lot of loyal customers, which was the most important thing,”

Jackson ran The Park for a further five years, until the end of last year when he announced he would be leaving Marmadukes and The Park would be closing. “I felt we had gone as far as we could go,” he says, clearly frustrated at The Park not getting the credit he felt it deserved.

“I saw an advert for an executive chef position at the Feversham Arms and I met and had a chat with Ingo, the general manager. He told me his vision of where he felt we could take the Feversham Arms. Everyone knew it for the Verbana Spa, but the food and beverage offering didn’t seem to match it. It was exciting and I really wanted to go back to the countryside – I’d had enough of the city.”

Jackson decided to take the job, bringing some of his chefs from The Park with him. “One of the things I am passionate about is bringing on new talent and passing on what I know,” he says. “The industry is changing, and for the better. I am not a shouter in the kitchen, I expect high standards but it is about valuing everyone who works for you.”

The Feversham Arms was originally a coaching inn before being rebuilt and renamed in 1855. The £1.2m Verbena Spa opened in 2008. General manager Wiangke says: “We are delighted with Adam’s appointment and his vision of making the Feversham Arms a food destination in its own right. We know that customers and guests are going to love his proven style of cooking, hospitality and amazing food.”

The Feversham Arms Hotel and Verbena Spa in Helmsley

The Feversham Arms Hotel and Verbena Spa in Helmsley

When I meet Jackson in the sumptuous surroundings of the Helmsley hotel, he has been in the job only a matter of days but is clearly glad to be back in Ryedale. Despite working 12-13 hour days, he is excited about the task ahead of him.

He has the air of a kid in a candy shop, bursting with ideas to bring the entire food offering – from breakfast to healthy dining in the spa to possibly an exclusive fine-dining restaurant – up to his exacting standards. “My role here is to improve everything,” Jackson says simply. “I want to bring the entire team together.”

He wants to appeal to locals and residents, as well as making the Feversham a foodie destination. “I want us to have the best hotel breakfast in the area,” he says, another item on his ambitious wishlist.

He knows it won’t happen overnight and there is a lot of work ahead of him and his team. But what is clear that if anyone can do it, Adam Jackson can. Let’s just hope the Michelin inspectors can see that.