Adam Handling: great food, no frills, no waste
Adam Handling, the young Scottish Chef, is a man of his time, combining classical cooking skills with a modern approach to dining and respect for his ingredients.
He hasn’t yet turned 30, and Adam Handling has already established himself as one of the UK’s leading chefs. In 2017, his restaurant The Frog E1 was awarded Food and Travel Magazine’s 'London Restaurant of The Year' and 'UK Restaurant of The Year'. They’re the latest in his long line of distinctions: Scottish Chef of the Year in 2015 for ‘Best Dessert’ and the British Culinary Federation's ‘Chef of the Year’ in 2014. And he remains the youngest ever person to be tipped by The Caterer magazine as one of the “30 under 30” to watch in the 2013 Acorn Awards.
Adam was classically trained, working at many prestigious establishments, starting at just 16 at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland (host to the 2014 Ryder Cup golfers). Next he became a sous-Chef in London and at the Malmaison Hotel in Newcastle. He became Head Chef, first at Fairmount St Andrews, at the Savoy in London and then at the eponymous Adam Handling at Caxton in St James's Park when he was just 25.
The Frog is never toady
While Adam has acquired all the skills of traditional gastronomy and appreciates the acclaim he’s earned, his overriding passion is to make great food, change the rules of cooking, and challenge the age-old conventions of service and style associated to fine dining. “When I founded the first restaurant I owned, The Frog E1, in a building on the edge of a car park in East London, I wanted to move away from the idea that fine food meant formal and toady service”, he asserts. “The idea was to create a place to eat great food, beautifully presented, but where you feel as relaxed as if you were at home with friends. No white tablecloths, no need to wear a suit, but just an organic and free-flowing atmosphere where what’s in the plate and the glass is what really counts.”
This no-frills approach is now being applied to his Covent Garden restaurant in London’s West End, Frog by Adam Handling, where the menu features slightly more refined dishes and ingredients (including truffles and caviar, for example), but which maintains the same relaxed atmosphere.
Waste not, want not
Adam has also opened the Bean & Wheat coffee shop and deli in London, which applies a no-waste philosophy (also being applied to his other restaurants), where every ingredient is used to the full. “When I make pork belly, I’ll trim about 30% off to have a nice square piece of meat in the dish,” he says. “I then use the trimmings to make rillettes or parfaits that people can take home in jars. For root vegetables, the peels are made into chips, unused fish bought fresh at the market is pickled and so on. We give our coffee grinds to a soap company that uses them as exfoliants.”
This waste-free philosophy also inspired Adam to launch his Black & White fruit and vegetable fruit juice line. “Since the farmers we work with don’t use pesticides, we buy their ‘reject’ products, such as nibbled lettuce leaves or outsized fruits they can’t sell directly to consumers and we make natural juices with them. We get cucumbers or tomatoes that are twice the standard size at a quarter of the price and blend the juice, a bit like the Les vergers Boiron does with its fruit purées, assembling the best taste combinations each time.”
And Adam created Eve
He’s also using Les vergers Boiron’s products in his latest venture, a London bar, which Adam naturally named Eve, and where he is trying out his skills as a mixologist, including making his own cordials and gin. “The basic concept behind Eve,” he says “is to mix religion, sex and temptation, which has clearly been a successful combination over the centuries. But, please, don’t give your readers the address. It’s a bit like a speakeasy, you have to find it on your own!”
Off the street and into the kitchen
“I wanted to drop out of school when I was 15, but my parents insisted that I get some sort of high-level training or apprenticeship, whatever the trade,” says Adam. “At 16, I became passionate about cooking as an apprentice at Gleneagle’s Hotel in Scotland. It changed my life.” Today, Adam is giving young kids the same chance he got earlier in life. He’s very active in ACE (Association of Catering Excellence) and Springboard, charities that give young people the opportunity to learn the craft of cooking and he recently launched an apprenticeship program for French youths, who get to work directly in his restaurants. “I hate waste and the worst thing is a wasted life,” concludes Adam. This year, Adam recruited his fellow finalists of UK TV show MasterChef: The Professionals to host two special evenings at The Frog E1, raising money for SSAFA, a charity that provides support for anyone who has served in the armed forces, and Dementia UK, who work with families to help them cope with the difficult everyday reality of Dementia.