A chef who shows no sign of slowing down, The Wordrobe gets up close and professional with Adam Handling to talk new openings, zero-waste cooking and the importance of unfaltering work ethic
What inspired you to become a chef?
At first, I didn’t know I wanted to be a chef. I just applied to become a trainee chef at Gleneagles to avoid going to uni!
But I really fell in love with the feeling of the kitchen, and since then everyone I’ve encountered has inspired me to work harder. When I first started in Gleneagles, the late Andrew Fairlie was a huge inspiration.
I was actually working in the main restaurant, and his private restaurant was behind glass. I used to go and stare through the window, just to watch and try and learn. It was exciting for me because I couldn’t do any of that stuff.
After that, my next inspiration was Tom Aikens – he could put loads of ingredients on a plate and it worked perfectly in harmony. He was a genius in terms of producing food.
When I was older and beginning to develop my own style, I looked to Sat Bains. He cooks simple British food using techniques and influences from around the world.
I was inspired by so many chefs along the way, but Sat Bains was probably the biggest inspiration of them all.
Where did you train? Tell us more about your culinary background…
I started my training at Gleneagles when I was 16. I was their first every trainee chef and I only applied because I didn’t want to go to university and my mum told me I had to get an apprenticeship instead! But that’s where I truly fell in love with cooking.
I then went on to become Fairmont’s youngest ever Head Chef, which culminated in winning Scottish Young Chef of the Year in 2011.
I opened my first independent restaurant back in 2016 (The Frog E1) and now the Adam Handling Group encompasses five food and drink venues that I’m so proud of (Frog by Adam Handling, Eve, The Frog Hoxton, Iron Stag and Bean & Wheat).
You’ve got another new opening on the horizon. What can guests expect from a meal at Adam Handling Chelsea?
All my restaurants have the same foundations – flavour is the most important thing we do in our group. I build all of my venues on the same four pillars – food, drink, music, and art – but Adam Handling Chelsea will drawing on British history too.
It would be silly not to – it’s such an historic, iconic building. We’ll be using the finest of British ingredients – I’ve actually just purchased an entire highland Wagyu cow for something I’m working on for the restaurant.
Essentially, it’s going to be a luxurious, British restaurant but still keeping my informal dining approach and most importantly, it’ll be delicious.
Tell us more about the zero-waste ethos of the new restaurant.
At Adam Handling Chelsea, we’ll be continuing the zero-waste ethos that’s behind my entire group. Nothing will be needlessly wasted and we’ll be using seasonal, local produce in every dish.
What’s your secret to balancing so many projects?
I have barely any free time! I’m in all of my restaurants every single day and I’m always doing a dinner service at one of them.
I never know which one it will be though, so it really comes down to have an amazing team around me that I trust completely.
It means that when I’m in one kitchen, I know that the kitchens in my other venues will be working seamlessly and the food will be as delicious as always. That’s a brilliant help and I really couldn’t do it without them.
What’s your favourite winter ingredient?
Do you have any role models?
Steven Kerr, my group chef.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Inspiring, tasty, British.
Name three of your top restaurants.
1 CORE by Clare Smyth – it’s really one of the best restaurants in London right now.
2 Holborn Dining Rooms – their lobster thermidor tart would be my desert island meal, it’s to die for.
3 I still remember one of the best meals of my life that I had in Bangkok, at Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin (in the Siam Kempinski Hotel).
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
Always have a notebook in your back pocket, always ask why, and taste everything.
What’s next on the cards?
Right now, I’m gearing up for the opening of the Belmond Cadogan Hotel. Not only will my restaurant and bar, Adam Handling Chelsea, be opening its doors but we’ve also developed the menus and concepts for the entire F&B operation at the hotel – from Afternoon Tea, to room service, and even event catering – so it’s been a massive project!
I’m so excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on. I can’t put into words how much time and effort has gone into making it incredible.
Finally… what’s your favourite midnight snack?
This might surprise some people, but my ultimate comfort food is cheesy beans on toast with sausages from a tin.
Or even a bowl of Heinz Tomato Soup… Sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious!
Adam Handling Chelsea will open 28 February 2019.
To find out more, please click here.