Adam Handling: Sustainability, British Cuisine, and the Perfect Cocktail

Adam Handling MBE started as an apprentice chef 16 years ago at the renowned Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland before becoming Fairmont’s youngest Head Chef at the Fairmont St. Andrews and later venturing south to London and beyond.

He returned to London and influenced by his travels and Japan’s zero-waste ethos, he founded Michelin-starred The Frog, The Loch & the Tyne, Eve Bar, and Ugly Butterfly, each with unique accolades and reflecting his commitment to sustainability and creative culinary experiences.

We got the chance to talk to Chef Adam Handling MBE about his latest bookset containing titles such as “Why Waste?”, “Frog by Adam Handling” “Perfect, Three Cherries” and his journey in creating a sustainable zero-waste restaurant group.

Chef Adam Handling MBE // Photos courtesy of Adam Handling Restaurant Group

Chef’s Roll: First, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Your time as a chef is limited, especially when running four different concepts.

Let’s start a bit from the beginning. You’re originally from Scotland, and you started working at 16 at the renowned Gleneagles in Scotland as a chef apprentice.

> Was there a pivotal moment or experience that made you want to pursue a career in the kitchen?

Adam Handling MBE: Honestly, going to university was never something I wanted to do. My mum gave me an ultimatum – get an apprenticeship and leave or stay in school and go to university. I didn’t enjoy school, so an apprenticeship was my way out. It sounds cliché, but that ultimatum changed the whole course of my life. 

CR: Since then, you’ve worked at various renowned establishments, traveled and worked at a few different cities around the world, and been awarded numerous accolades. Most recently, you’ve published a trilogy book collection that encompasses your career trajectory.

One book is about your first flagship restaurant, The Frog, in Covent Garden, London, which received and kept a Michelin-star recognition since 2022 – congratulations to you and the team! I am sure that has been such a whirlwind and such a nod to the hard work everyone has put in since its inception in 2017.

One of this book’s themes is bringing light to British food. You’ve mentioned that a big journey for you at The Frog was paving the way for what British food can be.

> What is British food’s identity to you?

AH: Britain was pretty powerful during Queen Victoria’s reign, so it became lazy and brought in some of the best chefs and products from around the world. Nowadays, we are feeling the pinch, and Britain is cooking for itself again. We’re opening a debate about what British food actually is.

This island has many phenomenal products, yet French cuisine still dominates. Even the word ‘cuisine’ is French. Don’t get me wrong, I know British food is young, but the sentiment of being proud to be British is constantly getting stronger. It was not until the 2000s that Britain started to break away from the mould of French/Mediterranean-inspired food and actually identify as ‘British.’ 

My goal is to promote the UK on that same main stage as the likes of France, Italy, and Spain but to take it one step further and showcase what we do better. The UK doesn’t really have classic dishes, so we’re able to create our own style of cooking while using Britain’s incredible ingredients.

Photos courtesy of Adam Handling Restaurant Group

CR: How has your culinary journey paved your nuanced take on this region’s produce and ingredients?

AH: My restaurants take inspiration from the region they’re based in, so, for instance, Ugly Butterfly in St. Ives offers British food inspired by Cornwall. The abundance of incredible produce all over the UK means you can source ingredients right on your doorstep, wherever you are. At Ugly Butterfly, we’ve partnered with The Eden Project, which is cool because they can give us access to ingredients they’re growing there, like pandan leaves, tropical fruits, and a range of teas.

CR: Your travels to Japan encapsulated your understanding and passion to move the needle forward in the concept of WASTE, especially in the culinary industry from BOH to Back of the Bar.

 > What can we expect from the secondary book “Why Waste?” part of the collection?

AH: “Why Waste?” is my complete guide to sustainability, encompassing everything I’ve learned in my career, with recipes that use local British ingredients (especially, as the title suggests, those often thrown in the bin). 

The book also includes a comprehensive foraging guide of the British Isles and innovative ways to be more sustainable, such as suggestions for replacing ingredients with others that may be leftover and some pretty unusual recipes, like making soy sauce from leftover bread. We’ve also included recipes that use underutilised meats, like venison, for instance, to provide some solutions to their being underused or wasted.

CR: The concept of zero-waste and sustainability is a crucial component that challenges many establishments to partake in a successful program.

> What would you say is the most challenging hurdle? 

AH: You have to go all in.

For example, when we set up The Loch & the Tyne, there was a lot of work to do because it’s such an old building – but we were committed to making it one of the UK’s most sustainable pubs. So, we found creative ways to implement sustainable changes to make it operate as zero-waste as possible.

We also have a bespoke sustainability program where we help our team understand why the group is prominent in the sustainability world and its importance. A lot of the time, sustainability has to be put into practice for people to see its full potential, so hands-on learning works best. Our main aim is to educate, motivate, and inspire, creating a sustainable future for the next generation.

We’ve started this Future Food Stars program for local Truro & Penwith College students. It aims to get young students into hospitality by including it in their curriculum. They spend two weeks working front-of-house, two weeks in the kitchen, and two weeks learning about the sustainable practices undertaken in the bar, and this all counts towards their college course.

1. Perfect, Three Cherries 2. Eve Bar // Photos courtesy of Adam Handling Restaurant Group

CR: The third book in the collection Perfect, Three Cherries, a nod to your signature cocktail of a Manhattan with three maraschino cherries, takes us to the concept of keeping a bar program with a close symbiotic relationship with the kitchen team.

 > How has Eve Bar, also in Covent Garden, London, and which is next to The Frog, kept this close relationship?

AH: It’s at the heart of the operation; Eve Bar and The Frog would struggle to exist without the other. The whole relationship is cyclical, using all the offcuts and ‘waste’ from the kitchen in our cocktail lab and transforming it into delicious cocktails and spirits. Almost everything is made in-house from the kitchen, allowing us to operate as close to zero-waste as possible.

CR: Running four different concepts takes a fantastic team to make them successful, especially with Ugly Butterfly being a few hours away in Cornwall.

> In short, how do you schedule your time to feel a part of the daily/weekly happenings at each?

AH: It’s a lot of back and forth, and, of course, the hours are long, but I make sure I’m a constant presence at every site as much as possible. Wherever I am, I fully trust my incredible team to run the other restaurants just as smoothly as if I were there. I’ve picked the best of the best and invested heavily in training so I can travel wherever I’m needed without worrying about any of the restaurants not getting the attention they require. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such an incredible team.

1. Ugly Butterfly, Cornwall 2. The Loch & The Tyne, Old Windsor 3. The Frog, London // Photos courtesy of Adam Handling Restaurant Group

CR: What’s your favorite beverage & snack/food pairing?

AH: You can’t beat fried chicken and Champagne. It’s my guilty pleasure, and there’s nothing like it. And it has to be a bottle of Champagne, with a family bucket of KFC – with some caviar on top, of course.

CR: What’s your ideal cocktail, music, and atmosphere mashup?

AH: Perfect, Three Cherries is my favorite cocktail, a Manhattan garnished with three cherries. It’s so good I named my cocktail book after it! 

For music, I’d choose some Motown balanced with some fun, contemporary art; you can’t get much better. The four pillars that make up my restaurant group are food, drink, art, and music, and it’s super important to me to make sure every element is represented at all of my venues.

CR: Lastly, what has been one of your career’s most off-the-cuff experiences/”Off The Record” memories thus far?

AH: Cooking for the G7 Summit in 2021 was an incredible experience and one I’ll never forget – it was surreal walking in and seeing world leaders like Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, and Joe Biden. It was an absolute honour to be recognised for our dedication to zero-waste and sustainability and to help put British food on a global stage — a truly unforgettable moment in my career.

About the Author:

Adam Handling MBE, started at the renowned Gleneagles Hotel 16 years ago, later becoming Fairmont’s youngest Head Chef and a celebrated Michelin-starred Chef with his own restaurant group comprised of four properties each centered in sustainability and creative cuisine. With accolades like Scottish Chef of the Year and Restaurateur of the Year (2020), he’s also an Ambassador for the UK Government’s GREAT campaign. In 2023, he was crowned BBC TV’s Great British Menu ‘Champion of Champions’ and created a winning recipe for the Coronation celebrations. Chef Adam Handling MBE is a culinary force celebrated for his Michelin-starred expertise and dedication to sustainability, now showcased in a limited edition boxset.

To purchase your own limited edition boxset of Chef Adam HandlingMBE’s work — Click Here.