Chewing the Fat with Adam Rawson: For the Love of Summer and Winter

Adam Rawson just got home after a long day of testing recipes for his soon-to-open restaurants. Adam is the Executive Chef of Isla and Double Standard, the restaurant and street facing bar, respectively, on the ground floor of The Standard, London. During this interview he proved to be a more than capable multi-tasker as he managed to offer precise explanations about his restaurants as a spirited baby and a poor phone connection grapple for his attention offering thus an insight into the mind and process of the chef.

The Standard, London will open in a converted Brutalist beauty of a tower across from the historic St. Pancras in King’s Cross and will house multiple restaurants. Adam’s two places—Isla and Double Standard will have two distinct personalities (with Chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ highly anticipated venture on The Standard, London’s rooftop adding a third personality later this year.)

“That’s the part I’m most excited about. There’s something for everyone,” Adam says. Pressed for more specifics, he offers a useful and inspired summary: “Double Standard is like winter. It’s heavy and warm—stuff you want to eat when you’re drinking. And Isla (pronounced eye-lah), is healthy and super light with a big fermentation program.” In keeping with The Standard’s DNA, this juxtaposition between bar food that is “heavy and warm” and Isla’s delicate and seasonal offering adds to the experience and testament to perhaps Adam’s own background.

Isla, an elegant name for human or restaurant, is an homage to the regional and coastal food of Britain; specifically to the coast near his hometown of Winchester, a city some 60 miles southwest of London. One can sometimes imagine the journeys of a chef told through the nuances of his food, and in the case of Adam, at the tender age of 4, he moved to his grandparents’ farm in a tiny village in France that he says, “you’d be lucky to find on Google Maps” and lived there until the age of 14. This continental experience perhaps explaining the references and his approach to cooking.

“Well, actually, my great-grandfather was an ice-cream maker from Italy. So, I guess it runs in the family”

If Adam’s fate in the kitchen seems inevitable, he was the last to know it, “I never thought I’d be a chef,” he says, though, soon after, he concedes that perhaps this wasn’t entirely unlikely. “Growing up I was always around food. We raised our own vegetables and chickens.” Reflecting further on his own life’s story, he spots the contradiction and refines the story. With a sort of guilty laugh, he says, “Well, actually, my great-grandfather was an ice-cream maker from Italy. So, I guess it runs in the family.”  

It may not have been his plan, but he certainly didn’t waste any time finding his way into the kitchen. “I had to make money somehow, and it was one of the easiest ways to do that”, recalling his memories of cooking in pub at 14 years old. Two years later he found himself in Austria, where he cooked European classics in an Alpine chalet. Though the experience was undoubtedly formative in the kitchen, what Adam really took away was a love for travel and it was this love that he would follow which took him around the world, shaping his career and cuisine. Soon after his experience in Austria, Adam relocated to Watford, on the northside of London and continued his culinary career.  

In his pursuit of gastronomic inspiration, Adam visited countless countries, where he cooked, Morocco, Italy, Sardinia, Japan and Peru to name a few. For those who follow such things, these areas are not just random destinations chosen on a whim. They are in fact, destinations specifically for people who put food at the center of their travels. The enlightenment he found in this period reflected the places themselves, understated and profound. “It was all about the freshest produce, and using the best products and letting them sing in their own way,” Adam said.

It is also possible to taste this inspiration in more explicit ways. Adam points to his purveyors, among others, an olive oil producer and truffles supplier both from Croatia, “a super cool dude doing aged meat in Galicia” as just a few of the folks he met along the way who will now supply the restaurants. Adam can be understated in talking about his food, but the Galician meat deserves more attention. It turns out, it’s not just aged meat, it’s old meat. The importer, Txuleta specializes in dairy cows between the age 8 to 15 years. That’s about 2-4 times older than the age in which they’re typically retired. “It gives them so much more time to develop and get marbling,” Adam said. “It’s an amazing product.”

Though the food of the two concepts are diurnally opposed, what ties them together beyond the impeccable sourcing is that they’re both rooted in drinking—or rather, the interplay between food and drink. Isla, an all-day restaurant, will serve natural wines and fresh, seasonal cocktails to accompany its “delicate” coastal fare, and Double Standard, the more “boisterous” and meaty of the two concepts, will center on stronger drinks (think classic cocktails) longer into the evening. It’s not just his travels that have proven Adam a dexterous talent. Prior to joining The Standard, he worked in all kinds of restaurants, from fine-dining to burger joints. But unlike most chefs, he actually did it in that order. His burgers became so popular that they were eventually awarded the best in London. Anticipating the subsequent obligatory question, he confirms that yes, a version of the famed burger will appear on the menu at Double Standard, and yes, it will be the same meat from the aforementioned Galician beef.  

Adam (and his food) are brimming with sensational stories. Like the time he received the cease and desist from KFC for creating a fried chicken pop-up based on an original 1950s menu from the chicken empire. Word got out fast. Too fast, actually, laughing, Adam says, “It only got to day two before KFC came knocking in on the door.”

There is a refreshing humility in how Adam can, for instance, talk about the burger for several minutes without mentioning the sourcing, almost as if it’s implied. The same is true of the bread. It takes a while to get there, but eventually we learn it’s being supplied by a bakery called The Dusty Knuckle that works with juveniles post-incarceration. Turns out, it’s also a social enterprise. “The bread I’m using is being made by young juveniles trying to find day-to-day work,” Adam said.  

As he prepares for the opening of the two new restaurants, Adam is doing his best to enjoy the family vibes and serenity of West London, but it’s not easy to sit back and relax, when he knows that the joy of cooking in the test kitchen can only be surpassed by cooking for guests, and for now, all he can do is wait as the building nears completion. “Apart from New York [where last summer he hosted a pop-up at The Standard, East Village] I’ve been planning for a year!” It’s the most expressive he’s been over the course of our hour-long chat. His enthusiasm holding true his commitment. “I’m at my best when I’m working in the kitchen.”


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