An interview with Adam Handling
An interview with Adam Handling
Tue, 31/10/2017 - 11:52
Adam has been collaborating with Sodexo on a range of initiatives. Whether it be running masterclasses with our chefs or designing signature hospitality dishes for fine dining in boardrooms and staff canteens across the country, his input has been inspirational and refreshing.
An incredibly accomplished young man, he already has an award-wining restaurant (The Frog E1 with a Bib Gourmand no less) under his wing, as well as a sustainable delicatessen (Bean and Wheat), range of cold press juices (Black and White) and even his own olive oil (Olivia), his latest venture is no less impressive.
Now opening a second 'Frog' restaurant in Covent Garden - although you may know him better from his time on MasterChef: The Professionals - we caught up with Adam to discover more about this exciting development, and to find out about him and his inspiration.
As someone who has achieved a tremendous amount at a young age, what drives you?
I’ve always been a very competitive person by nature, and I’m always thinking about what’s next and how I can improve. The hospitality industry, especially in London, is so fast-paced and it’s important to keep up with that. I love cooking, and it might be a cliché but I’m a big believer in the idea that if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it right. Not just right, but make it great. I want to be proud of every plate that leaves my kitchen.
With a strong emphasis on Modern British food in the restaurant, but being influenced by your travels abroad, which rules do you have with a dish, or which do you never break?
For me, when I’m creating a dish I don’t think there should be any rules. You’ve got to let your creativity flow and that won’t happen if you’re thinking about specific rules. It’s like writing a book – just get all your ideas down and then you edit and revise it later. I don’t apply the same rule when I’m creating a menu though. With the five flavour profiles, you should only have 2 or 3 of those featuring prominently, and each dish should have the opposite flavour profile of the last one.
Which personal experiences have greatly influenced your cooking, such as travelling adventures?
I’ve travelled a lot in my life – when I was younger, I spent a few years living in Germany and I’ve also spent a lot of time travelling round Asia. It’s still my favourite place to go on holiday. It’s important for me to take my experience of different cuisines across the world, the look, taste, and smell of different foods, and think about how I can incorporate that into my style of cooking. As a chef, you have to constantly be exploring with food, connecting dots and always creating and adding to your repertoire. People are important, too – food is so personal and different people in countries all over the world have different tastes and preferences, and they can introduce you to so many interesting things.
What are the differences between The Frog E1 and the new Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden? Do you expect a different type of clientele at each restaurant?
Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden is my “flagship” restaurant and it’s a little more formal than The Frog E1, which is more laid-back in style. The style of food is obviously similar in both restaurants (although the menus are never the same) but the experience is a little more elevated in Frog by Adam Handling. I wanted to make sure guests would have different experiences at each of the restaurants but still absolutely love it no matter where they visited. Frog by Adam Handling is a destination restaurant in the hub of Covent Garden which means there’s a huge variety in customers and there’s a lot of tourists in the area. The Frog E1 is a bit more of a neighbourhood restaurant, so we have our local regulars but people do travel from all over to visit, which is amazing. The idea is that you can visit either restaurant, have a great time, and be inspired to visit its sister restaurant.
Why ‘The Frog’ theme? What’s behind the name?
The Frog E1 was my first independent restaurant, so it was a massive leap of faith for everyone involved. I think it was Kermit that said “it all starts with a leap!” The same can be said about the new restaurant – it was a completely new project, a new style of restaurant so that was another leap for us.
What do you want to offer guests at Frog? What do you want them to go away saying about your restaurant?
When I opened both restaurants, I had the same idea in mind – to create exactly the kind of restaurant I would like to go to. Incredible food, a great atmosphere, and no fussy pretences. I’m a very casual person, when I’m not in my chef’s whites you’ll normally find me in jeans, a t-shirt, and trainers, so I wanted both restaurants to be the kind of place that absolutely anyone that loves food can go to. There’s no dress code – you can dress up or down and have a great time regardless. I once got turned away from a restaurant because I was in trainers – for me, what you’re wearing has no effect on how you enjoy food. Wear what makes you happy and eat what makes you happy! I want guests to leave the restaurant being blown away by the food and the drinks, and feeling like they’ve been very well looked after.
What is the inspiration behind the Eve Bar? It appears very mysterious! What did you want to offer guests at the bar? Have you channelled the spirit of a speakeasy?
I’ve always loved cocktails and the chemistry behind them. I started to find that when I was tasting and trying new things, I would think about how it could work in a dish but also how it could work in a drink. Exploring flavour profiles shouldn’t be confined to just food. I’m really passionate about high-quality cocktails, and I wanted to open a bar where the same attention to detail that I put in my food could also be put into the drinks. I was inspired by the story of Creationism, so the bar is heavily themed on the story of Adam and Eve, and temptation. Indulgence, temptation, hedonism, all of life’s greatest pleasures, is key! The idea behind Eve is that once you step through the door, you can leave all of life’s worries behind you and simply indulge. I’m not keeping it a secret at all but the design of the bar does lend itself to a speakeasy – it’s dark, luxurious, and a little bit mysterious.
Have you rolled out the same ‘no waste’ ethics as pioneered at Bean and Wheat across your whole estate? What are the main challenges to this?
The idea for Bean & Wheat actually came about because we didn’t want to waste any ingredients – there were certain cuts of meats and vegetables that we weren’t using at the restaurant and I hated the idea of wasting them. So we take them, turn them into something else, and sell them at Bean & Wheat. I buy whole ducks for the restaurant but I don’t use the liver – why not turn it into a duck liver parfait? That’s actually one of my favourites! I’ve really been trying to focus on the sustainability of the group as a whole – we grow our own produce at our farm in Sussex and we use every inch of those ingredients, whether that’s in the restaurant or at Bean & Wheat. I think the biggest challenge, not just for me but for the industry as a whole, is encouraging people to make the most of and enjoy off-cuts and not see them as leftovers, or waste. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – they’re just different parts of the ingredient and are just as delicious and nutritious.