Blog post | Adam Handling profile
Adam Handling: Keeping It Real
Newby Tea Ambassador Adam Handling is uncompromising when it comes to quality. It’s a stance which has taken the Scottish chef to the top of his profession with impressive speed. Newby Teas’ Alex Ashby spent a morning at Adam’s kitchen to see how he rolls…
Not everyone could endure being on their feet from 7am until gone midnight 6 days a week, but marathon kitchen sessions like this are just one example of the dedication which took Adam Handling to running his own signature restaurant by the age of 25. It’s no wonder he refers to the place as his ‘home’.
Anyone expecting a shouty, ego-driven hothead would be in for a surprise. The Handling kitchen shares the harmonious characteristic his intricate dishes are fast becoming famed for, and Adam himself runs the show with admirable self-control and respect for his team – many of whom have been with him for years. “All that stuff is over”, muses Dundee-born Handling, referring to the clichéd ‘temperamental chef’ type fond of making kitchen hands quake deferentially in their presence. “These days, if you don’t treat people well, they will just think ‘I’ve had enough of this’, and leave”.
Confidently leading a brigade of 17 at what is now Adam Handling at Caxton, the former MasterChef finalist has a seasoned self-assurance you wouldn’t expect of a man still years from his 30s – then again, his CV is already pretty fulsome. In just over a decade, his time in a handful of the UK’s best kitchens has equipped him with the skills to lead and motivate as well as cook, and it’s clearly a responsibility he takes seriously. Those successful in securing a place on Adam’s team may be required to join him for a daily 5k run around St James’s Park– the health-conscious Head Chef’s preferred method of team bonding. It seems to work: the preparations for lunch service we observed appeared to run like a well-oiled machine, with barely a stress-induced breakdown in sight.
This is particularly impressive when the menu has been developed with an attention to detail informed by equal doses of art and science, thanks largely to Adam and Sous Chef Jamie Park respectively. Adam gives credit for pulling all this feverish creativity together to his other right-hand man, Steven Kerr – a veteran of Handling kitchens with 10 years’ service already behind him. If anyone knows how to make the pair’s inventive visions work in practice, it’s Steven.
Don’t worry, there’s been no evil manipulation of the food on your plate to create something self-consciously ‘on trend’ – Adam believes the science of food lies in understanding your ingredients and using them wisely. “Fresh is always better than something synthetic but ‘cool’”, he says. “You don’t need to ferment vegetables, for example, when you can get them fresh perfectly easily. And, they taste better”.
Quality and purity of flavour is valued far more highly than fashion, and it was comforting to discover that the atmosphere at Caxton was similarly unforced – there’s not a hint of pretentiousness either front or back-of-house, with Handling concerned that his diners should enjoy a good time. “I don’t want this to be the ‘best’ restaurant – I want it to be your favourite restaurant. There’s a big difference”. Reactions to his dishes, ranging from ‘epic’ to ‘beautiful’ to ‘the best food I have ever tasted’, suggest he’s succeeding, and his eye-catching presentations are certainly keeping the Instagram generation happy.
Regularly dining out (“I never cook at home”), Adam is complimentary of the London food scene in 2016: “It’s the best city in the world for food now. You can get anything here. There’s a stripped back, relaxed style emerging which people like, unlike places like New York where it’s still quite formal. The rest of the world now follows what London does. It’s a great time to be here”. Since adding Newby to his own menus, Adam has made sure the quality of his teas is a match for anyone’s – and we were delighted to see him treating the ingredient with such respect. “We always follow your instructions”, Handling told us, adding with a grin, “…unless we think you’re wrong”.
There’s a charming modesty about Handling, who confides he is “actually quite shy”, but an underlying ambition clearly drives him. It’s not the pursuit of awards (he’s got quite a few already) or a contrived celebrity status which motivates – if there’s one thing this admirably straightforward Scot clearly values, it’s authenticity. When asked for his ethos, he doesn’t hesitate. Simply, “Be true to yourself”.
Ever inventive, Adam Handling has been busy creating dishes with Newby teas and trying out some of our blends he hadn’t discovered before. Come back soon to find out his thoughts, and see what he has in store.