Adam Handling, Caxton, St James’s Park, London

The Staff Canteen

Well known as a ‘favourite to win’ finalist in MasterChef 2013, Adam Handling has recently been awarded British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year 2014. He was listed as one of the ‘30 under 30’ to watch in The Caterer & Hotelkeeper’s 2013 Acorn Awards, and he was awarded ’Scottish Young Chef of the Year 2011’.

Starting his official culinary training aged 16 as the first ever apprentice chef at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, he then went on to build upon his experience further by working as 1st commis chef at Rhodes 24 in London, before heading his first brigade as sous chef at the Malmaison Hotel, Newcastle. Adam then took up his first head chef position at Fairmont St Andrews where he was responsible for the fine dining restaurant Esperante. As the youngest ever head chef within the Fairmont group, Adam achieved two AA rosettes for the restaurant and won numerous awards during his time there. After a six-month tour of duty on the six-star liner, Crystal Serenity, Adam took on the position of Head Chef of the St Ermins hotel in St James’s Park, where MasterChef 2014 finalists were recently filmed cooking under his instruction. In September this year, Adam opened up Adam Handling at Caxton and Adam is heading up a team of 14.

You were the first apprentice at Gleneagles Hotel, had you always had a love of food before that?

I had a massive love for eating food, but never preparing it. I used to hate getting my hands dirty, anything sticky I just really didn’t enjoy when I was younger. Gleneagles opened me up to a completely different level, it’s one of the best hotels in Europe and at the time, the world. It definitely gave me the best foundation to progress higher and learn from the best.

Did being a part of one of the top hotels in Europe shape your style and philosophy of food or did that come later?

I was only there three years and although it was great experience and learnt a lot, I don’t think anyone could find their style in just three years, they’d have to be a super chef! It did however set the standards of operations I wanted to work in. It wasn’t until I started at the Fairmont St Andrews that I started to find my own style.

So what would you say your style is?

I went travelling around the world for a year and that’s when I realised what I like to eat – I experienced different cultures and spent nine months in Asia. That experience had and still does have a dramatic influence on my style.

There’s a good link between front of house and the kitchen then?

Of course. Anyone who saw Masterchef will know I’m a crazy control freak. From how the tables are set, the uniform – everything. But in a good way! I want to make sure that everyone is always smiling and happy, if any of them come in to work and their not I tell them to go downstairs and come back when they’re happy again! It’ so important to be surrounded by positive people, especially when you are in the kitchen for 18 hours a day.

You’ve recently launched Adam Handling at Caxton, what’s that been like?

It has been an eye opening experience. Since it was announced the restaurant has been so busy. Being my first restaurant it’s a learning curve. It couldn’t have been done without the help of my sous chef Steven Kerr. He has worked with me for nearly seven years.  It opened up with three rosettes which is phenomenal.

What made you want to stay at Caxton, why was that the location for you?

Get yourself down for dinner – when you see the hotel it’s located in you will understand why! St Ermin’s Hotel is stunning, it’s a hidden gem which is steeped in history. You walk in the front door and to me, it’s more special than the Savoy which has been updated and modified. St Ermin’s Hotel is so English and so beautiful.

What makes your restaurant stand out among the many other restaurants in London?

I’m big on freshness and we do a lot of juices using lots of different herbs - chervil, basil, dill. We also thicken them to make purees, or we use them as dressings. We’re about light, fresh food. I don’t want to be a special occasion restaurant, I want people to turn up wearing whatever they like. I want everyone to feel relaxed, the music’s up and its’ very rustic and cool. It’s all about nature too – we have the living wall full of things you can eat, the gardens outside which are being developed and old food pots on the table with living cacti in them.

Does the restaurant’s aesthetics reflect your cooking style then?

Yes it does. Food is like fashion, when I first started it was all about large white plates, lots of little dots of sauce and the food piled up really high, then it became spread out, then molecular and now rustic. I can guarantee in a few years’ time it will go back to the big white plates again. At this moment in time I’m happy, and so are the team, because I’m passionate about this rustic approach. Really clean cut flavours, I hardly use butter in my food and there are a lot of Japanese influences. It’s light and really tasty.

What are your goals for yourself and the restaurant in the future?

 have no idea, I just take each day as it comes. I love travelling so I want to take a month out and go around South America – I’ll probably come back and change the style of food. I’d love a Michelin star but I would never chase one. If all you do is concentrate on that you lose business. If Michelin give us one because the food is up to standard, the service is great – then I’ll be overly happy. But if I just concentrate on what they want and I lose a quarter of the diners – I’ll get my star but I won’t get paid. I’d also love another restaurant but I want one entirely myself.

In that case would you stay in London?

Yes, I love London, it sets the food fashions for Europe. But in ten years’ time one in London and one in Edinburgh, because I’ve got to have one up there!

And what about TV? Would you do more or do you want to step back and concentrate on the restaurant?

There’s a lot more in the pipeline but I can’t talk about it yet – so yes I would like to do more.

And finally which chefs inspire you?

Sat Bains – he’s my favourite chef ever. We recently did a pop up dinner for American Express together and he is definitely my inspiration. *If you want to know more about Adam’s cooking style, his new book, Smile or get out of the kitchen, is available now.

Hear what Adam had to say about his time on last year's Masterchef: The Professionals series here. Dream of being a head chef like Adam? Take a look at our current head chef positions on our jobs board

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th November 2014

Adam Handling, Caxton, St James’s Park, London