“Everything has happened very fast, which has meant I’ve been incredibly busy,” says chef Adam Handling, of Adam Handling at Caxton restaurant in London. Adam is referring to the last 12 months and “busy” is probably an understatement. Taking over a prime restaurant in the capital, releasing his first cookbook, appearing at a major international food festival, Cayman Cookout, and winning a handful of awards has meant Handling has achieved an incredible amount in his 27—almost 28—years.
“If you’d have asked me one year ago what I wanted to achieve in five years, I’d have said all the things that I have somehow achieved in just one year,” he says, as he takes a few minutes out of his busy schedule to reflect.
Starting his chef training at 16 in 2004 as Gleneagles’ first ever apprentice chef, Handling quickly rose through the kitchen ranks, both in Scotland and England, before becoming the youngest ever head chef with the Fairmont hotel group at the Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews.It was there that Handling won Scottish Young Chef of the Year 2011.
Taking over Caxton Grill at St Ermin’s Hotel, London, in September 2014, Handling has progressed his own style of contemporary British cuisine. “[My cuisine] can be described as having core British foundations with influences from my travels, in particular from Asian cooking techniques. You will get the best and freshest ingredients available and, importantly, these ingredients will be used in dishes that I am incredibly passionate about,” he explains.
There is a clear Asian influence in Handling’s dishes, from some of the ingredients used to the technique applied. Having travelled through the region he has been inspired to look at flavour combinations from a new perspective. He adds, “I’m also starting to use my own life experiences, and the people around me as inspiration for menu concepts. However, even more than this, I eat to be inspired. I’m always hungry, which means I’m always tasting foods and thinking [about] what I can do with them to make them into a dish that will mean something and wow my diners.
Handling has most recently been working on the creation of a new tasting menu, which features truffles and a fine dining take on macaroni and cheese. “Truffles are great to work with and white truffles have a very strong aroma—they have an earthiness which goes really well with potato and pasta dishes…As well as using it in my mac ‘n’ cheese, I’ve also paired truffles with other luxury ingredients in a dish called Liquid Gold, which is an olive oil mousse encased in gold and white chocolate, topped with English caviar and covered with white truffle shavings.”
Handling might be working with caviar and truffles, two of the world’s most coveted luxury ingredients, but it’s the humble cauliflower that he favours the most. “[The cauliflower] is a vegetable that’s had bad press due to peoples memories of having their mothers or grandmothers place tasteless water-boiled cauliflower on their plate as an unwelcome guest with their roast dinner. The truth is cauliflower is misunderstood and with a little more creativity, it can be a delicious element of a meal, or indeed the main event on a plate. When taking a cauliflower component, I always burn or char it as it brings out a great flavour.” He advises: “I would encourage pushing the boundaries with flavour combinations. I love to add an Asian twist and currently have a cauliflower, kimchi and caviar dish being served at my restaurant. It’s pretty incredible!”
While the Asian effect is clear, I ask which other chefs influence Handling. “It is fair to say Sat Bains has been a real inspiration. I love everything about his food. I love his ethos, the style of his plating and the amazing techniques he uses.”
Massimo Bottura also left an impact on Handling after he was mentored the chef at restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. “Massimo taught me to push myself to look at a good plate of food and then think again about how this could be even better…Through his food you can tell he is always looking at how to evolve traditional dishes and they tend to reflect his own experiences, which has prompted me to consider how my dishes and menu reflect my experiences.”
One of the dishes on Handling’s menu that reflect his memory is ‘Mother,’ a dish that has been on the menu since the restaurant’s launch. “It’s a dish I created for [my mother] and I’m keen to ensure diners can connect with this celeriac and truffle-based dish as much as possible and have decided to change its presentation. It will soon be served in a jewellery box for which diners will need a key to open,” he explains. Inside the jewellery box diners will find an added surprise and it is this style of theatrical presentation that adds a further dimension to Handling’s menu—one that won him a very positive review from restaurant critic Jay Rayner of The Guardian newspaper. “Then a dish of scallops turns up and boom, the fireworks go off,” Rayner remarked in his December 2014 review, which, quite simply, summarises: “Ambition like this is also worth celebrating. I’m glad I went.”
Handling is also puts a fine dining spin on one of the biggest cooking trends of the last few years in a dish called Burnt, he explains: “It’s beef and cabbage, but burnt. It may not immediately sound delicious, but trust me; if you know how to purposely burn these ingredients the flavour is amazing. And it’s not just me who thinks so; this dish helped me win both British Federation Chef of 2014 and Scottish Chef of the Year 2015.”
Despite all of these achievements, there’s still plenty more to come, he concludes: “I am naturally driven and very ambitious…I’d like my own standalone restaurant in London within five years. This would mean I could be totally free in my menu planning and dish creation, without the restrictions that sometimes come with having a restaurant within a hotel.”
Find out more about Adam and his culinary career here…