You might have heard of chef Adam Handling through his dining experiences in Chelsea and Covent Gardens, including his flagship fine dining experience Frog. Adam was tipped by Caterer magazine in 2013 at the Acorn Awards as one of the ‘30 under 30 to watch’ and since then he has been ever growing his culinary journey and racking up awards for his skills.
We caught up with Adam, who gave us a great insight to his world, including some tips for chefs looking to work for his group, advice he’d give to his younger self and what fine dining means to him...
When did your passion for culinary begin?
"I’ve always loved food and I enjoyed cooking as a child - one of my earliest food memories is making chocolate truffles when I was about 12. I think a lot of that has to do with my mum, who was a great cook, so I’ve always been interested in experimenting with flavour combinations but I didn’t know I wanted to be a chef.
"I knew I didn’t want to go to university, so when I finished by GCSEs, I joined Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland as their first ever trainee chef ten days after my 16th birthday. It was crazy, I’d never seen anything like a busy, fast-paced kitchen before but I fell in love with it and it’s where I felt at home."
What are your main values when it comes to a fine dining experience?
"There are the obvious ones - it needs to serve delicious food, it needs to feel comfortable, the surroundings and atmosphere need to work, and the service has to be great. For me, there also has to be something standout. Something different to anywhere else that’s going to make you remember that meal for the rest of your life."
What should people look for when it comes to getting the best experience from a fine dining restaurant?
"It’s not a physical thing - I personally don’t think there need to be starched tablecloths or fancy cloches. Fine dining comes in many different forms. What I look for is to be made to feel comfortable and feel like a valued guest.
"Food aside, it really is all about the service. You will remember great food, but you’ll go back for great service."
If someone was visiting one of your restaurants for the first time what can they expect?
"Something unexpected. I want to break the boundaries of traditional formal settings but not compromise on the quality of the offering. My food and the way my restaurants look don’t match. It’s most important to me that my guests feel comfortable, we don’t do formal or rigid. It’s a relaxed, comfortable experience with outstanding food and wine."
How do you think fine dining restaurants can recover from the current situation?
"I think they need to carry on doing what they’re doing, there isn’t much more the industry can do or give. Continue to serve great food, give people great experiences, and hope they continue to come back. If restaurants can afford to do added-value deals or offers, I would advise it. Restaurants are struggling but so are the people dining in them. Not every restaurant can afford to do that though, and that’s totally understandable."
What’s been your best experience as a customer?
"One of my favourite restaurants, which has sadly recently closed, was The Greenhouse in Mayfair. The food was absolutely incredible, I went back several times. That’s what makes a great restaurant - you can go back time and time again, and enjoy it just as much, if not more than you did the first time."
Advice you can give to a chef who wants to work at one of your restaurants?
"If you really want to work in my group, the most important thing for me is personality. The biggest factor in my decision-making process is when I actually meet them. I need to know that they will work in the team, but I also want to hear why they want to work for me.
"I want to know that they love it and believe in what we do. It’s so important to understand the food first, to eat the food first and know the kind of experience we want to offer our guests. Do your research and put in the groundwork."
If you had to pick one dish to serve what would it be and why?
"It changes all the time but at the moment, it would be my ‘Wagyu lobster’ dish, available on the tasting menu at Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden. It’s so simple but absolutely flawless in my eyes. It’s a perfect representation of the quality of the ingredients that come out of Scotland, and demonstrates that you don’t need to have a million ingredients and a hundred techniques to make an incredible dish.
"Sometimes, simple is best."
What is your favourite ingredient to work with and why ?
"That’s a very difficult one to answer, I love so many different ingredients so I don’t think I could pick just one. My favourite thing to do with an ingredient is find more sustainable ways to use it - finding different, unexpected ways to use parts of ingredients that are often not used and turning them into something delicious.
"That’s a big part of my entire restaurant group, and you’ll always find something unusual on our menus that you might not have been expecting to see, but are always delicious."
What’s your proudest moment as a chef?
"Winning Chef of The Year was a big one, but I would probably have to say opening my very first restaurant, The Frog E1, was one of my proudest moments. It was my first independent restaurant that was all about how I wanted to serve food. I didn’t have to answer to anyone or get permission to do certain things, it was 100% me.
"If the team and I wanted it to happen, it did. We put so much love and energy into that restaurant - we painted the walls ourselves, fitted all the fixtures ourselves (including putting the door handles on backwards). The restaurant was relatively small, and next to a car park in Shoreditch, but everyone absolutely loved it and I was so proud of what we had achieved together."
If you could give any advice to your younger self what would it be?
"That’s a tough one. If I could go back a few years and give myself some advice, I think it would be to not open as many restaurants so quickly. I would tell myself to have more time to enjoy the process rather than moving on to the next restaurant so quickly. I’ve loved all of my restaurants, but I think I need to chill out a bit more and enjoy them."
You can find out more about Adam here