An Interview with Chef and Entrepreneur, Adam Handling

by Nicola Gartenberg

Please can you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Adam Handling. I’m 27 and one of the most passionate, determined and ambitious twenty-something chefs out there. I’m about to start the most exciting chapter of my career yet, with the launch of my own concept restaurant: The Frog.

How did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

I’ve always loved food and cooking. My mum is a great cook and I have always been interested in flavours and experimenting with flavour combinations. It all started for me at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, where I was the first trainee chef they’d ever had at the hotel. I then went on to become Fairmont’s youngest ever Head Chef, which culminated in winning Scottish Young Chef of the Year in 2011. In 2013, I was a finalist in MasterChef: The Professionals and that’s probably what got me out there – since then, I’ve opened my restaurant, won the British Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year 2014, Newcomer Restaurant of the Year 2014, and Scottish Chef of the Year 2015.

What is your favourite food? 

A favourite food is a tough one because I love so many foods, but one of my favourite ingredients to work with is cauliflower. It’s a vegetable that’s had a bad press due to people’s 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 can be a delicious element in any 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. I guess I like it because it’s a food that surprises people when I cook it.

What made you decide that now was the time to start out on your own?  

I’ve spent the last few years, along with my amazing team, really developing my style of cooking, it has taken a lot of innovating and experimenting, but I now feel I have a confident and unique cooking style and now feels right to showcase that with this new venture.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned so far?

That being true to who you are and what you believe in is fundamental to success and happiness. Sometimes in your career you have to compromise elements of your creativity or what you think is right to suit environments, particularly as a chef. This is okay for a time but, in truth, it should be all about expressing yourself creatively and I really feel I will be able to do that now.

What are the biggest obstacles you personally have come across on your journey?

I can’t think of one singular obstacle but there’s certainly been a few hurdles, including comprising my creativity to fit into a certain ‘mould’. You really have to love your job to be a chef. You have to be absolutely passionate, otherwise everyday could feel like an obstacle. 12- 15 hour shifts in a hot kitchen aren’t for everyone, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you were to be a mentor for someone, what attributes would you look for in your mentee? 

I’d want to see that they were innovative, ambitious and honest.

How has Toucan supported you?

Toucan’s support has provided me with the tools that I’ve needed to start my own venture and essentially to realise my dream. The support system put in place by Toucan has been incredible and I have been connected to all the services I might need, not to mention the mentors who have such a wealth of experience. They have seen, respected and offered helpful feedback on my ideas from the beginning to now, where my first own restaurant, The Frog, will be opening in June.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?  

Always write everything down, always ask the question why, always do your research on an ingredient and always, always taste!