Good food lovers have been going to Café Adam since it opened on the Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington in 2006. In the years since, it has morphed from an informal café serving food all day into a more formal dinner destination just on the other side of Route 7.
Chef-owner Adam Zieminski started his culinary education while in high school, working at the Federal House in South Lee. Later, he worked at Highwood and Saranac, the private restaurants at Tanglewood, for several seasons. He also worked at Bistro Zinc and Pearl’s.
Zieminski got his professional training at Johnson and Wales culinary school in Rhode Island. While there he applied at Wheatleigh, where he worked for several years. His apprenticeships in Wales and London were major influences on his style. “Working at the legendary Connaught Hotel in London was an important
part of my culinary education,” he says.Zieminski’s mother, Christina, owned Sweet Peas and Petunias in Great Barrington on the grounds of where Haven is now. Prior to that she owned Christina’s Just Desserts, a bakery in Housatonic. “I knew I didn’t want to be a baker,” says Zieminski. “It just wasn’t satisfying for me. I find savory flavors much more attractive.”
Although his mother was in the restaurant business, she did not pressure him to become a chef. “I always wanted to go into the business on my own,” he says. “But I thought seriously about becoming an architect because I appreciate design.”
Now that his restaurant is in a larger space, up to 80 diners can enjoy his savory flavors in the evenings. During the Berkshires’ high season, Zieminski has about 24 people on staff, a figure that goes down to about 16 in off-season.
The 25-seat bar area does not take reservations, but it’s best to reserve for the dining rooms. “We allow two hours per seating.” The restaurant opens at 5:00, and by 7:30 or 8 they’ve reached their maximum capacity. “Everyone wants to eat at 7:30,” he says ruefully.
It’s not just food that is special at Café Adam. Their wine list, with over 500 wines, was just given an award of excellence from the influential Wine Spectator magazine.
Given Zieminski’s admiration for France and its food, it’s not surprising that he combines American ingredients with European cooking techniques. “In fact, that’s what defines us,” he says. Pondering his cassoulet , he says, “We find a lot of strength in the traditional foods of Europe, although we give them an American sensibility.”
When asked which dishes he prefers to prepare, he thinks for a moment and then says, “It’s hard to say because in every season we’re ready for the next ingredients. That’s a question where the answer varies by the season.” Right now he’s working with Sean Stanton’s tomatoes, and using stone fruits wherever possible. And he’s happy that we’re going into apple season. He summarizes, “The best dishes to prepare are those that use locally grown ingredients.”
Several years ago, when television weatherman Al Roker, a good friend and regular customer, asked Zieminski to prepare a dish on The Today Show, he made seared scallops with pureed parsnips. “I was very nervous. There are five million people who watch the show! I was glad when it was over.”
Café Adam’s menu is a mixture of new dishes introduced seasonally, and favorites that would evoke howls of protest if removed. “We always have hanger steak and fries on the menu. And we make our own fries,” he notes.
While Zieminski likes too many ingredients to specify his favorites, he does admit to a strong preference for grilling. “I couldn’t live without a grill in the kitchen,” he admits. Zieminski and his wife Sylwia travel abroad regularly, eating well for both pleasure and business. “We went to Rome last spring,” he says,” and Italy was in its full regalia. Amazing!” Their most recent trip was to Quebec, so you might look for something frenchified on the menu soon.
Zieminski is not just a good cook, but a good citizen as well. He is a sponsor of the Great Barrington Farmers Market. He has been a board member of Berkshire Grown for two years, and is a generous contributor of food at their events. Zieminski also has teams up with a group of local chefs who cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York.
Even a quick visit to the restaurant alerts you to Zieminski’s interest in art. A large and playful painting by Morgan Bulkeley is the first piece one sees, and there are many more throughout the restaurant. Zieminski’s friend — and gallery owner — Geoffrey Young “has been very generous to me.” Zieminski’s original dream of a restaurant was to incorporate it within an art gallery, but when that proved impractical, he hooked up with Young and other dealers. About half of the paintings are by local artists, and some are from California and New York. “Most of the work is on loan,” he reminds me.
No story about Café Adam would be complete without mention of Adam and Sylwia’s newest creation—eleven-month old Camila, whose reaction to food is an unending pleasure to her parents.
As we conclude our interview in the bar at Café Adam, its owner looks around and says “I’m really happy to be living my dream.” And that makes us both smile.