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Chefs’ Theatre – tbc

With countless awards to his name and an ever-growing empire of restaurants, Adam Handling has achieved a huge amount in his illustrious career. Taking inspiration from his travels, utilising modern cooking techniques and sourcing the best of British produce results in flavourful dishes full of playful twists and theatre.

Drive, hard work and ambition – three things every chef needs to succeed in a notoriously difficult industry. You have to put up with brutally long working hours; constantly strive to be better than yesterday and soak up as much knowledge as you can. And while there are many role models that encapsulate this in the world of hospitality, few can hold a candle to Adam Handling, who has a plethora of accolades and a restaurant empire to his name. Not bad for a thirty-one-year-old; especially one who only started cooking so he could escape school.

‘I had experienced a lot of different cultures because my dad was in the army, but I don’t have a story about helping my gran in the kitchen or anything like that,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t the most academic person in school, but all my family went to university so it was expected of me – particularly because it was free to go in Scotland. Eventually my mum said if I wasn’t going to sixth form then I had better get an apprenticeship at a place that’s really well respected, and it just so happened that my teacher had heard about Gleneagles accepting apprentices for the first time.’

Donning his dad’s suit, Adam had to go through four interviews before he was offered the apprenticeship. ‘I’m a cheeky little bugger and I think that’s why they gave it to me,’ he says. ‘I’m brutally honest, very stubborn and I always want to be the very best at anything I do, and I think they liked that.’

The next few years were tough; with over 100 chefs working at Gleneagles, he wasn’t allowed to do anything more than prepare vegetables for the first nine months. But eventually he worked his way up to the grill and ran the section himself. By this point he’d gained the sort of expert training you can only get in kitchens like Gleneagles, and he was ready to move on. This led Adam to London and Newcastle for a short time, before he returned to Scotland to become the youngest ever head chef at Fairmont St Andrews. Soon after he was named Young Chef of the Year at the Scottish Culinary Championships, but that wasn’t enough – Adam was after a Michelin star. ‘I became pretty nasty and when I realised it wasn’t going to happen I just packed it all in to go travelling. I wasn’t sure if being a chef was for me.’

Up until this point, Adam had sacrificed his personal life to get a good grounding in his career, so he felt it was time to get out of the kitchen and see the world. ‘I know loads of people say you find yourself when you’re travelling and it sounds like bullshit, but it really did help me get some perspective on life,’ he says. ‘After a year I ran out of money, so I came home and looked for a job in London. Getting your foot in the door there is always hard, especially if you’re after a senior position like I was, because everyone would say ‘oh, you’ve not done London before, so you have to start as a junior sous’ – even though I was basically teaching the sous chef how to do things.’

However, Adam eventually landed a job as head chef at St Ermin’s Hotel in St James’ Park. ‘It was a great little place and it gave me my first chance to cook my own food,’ he explains. ‘Then when I went on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2013, the restaurant got packed and I got my name on the door – Adam Handling at Caxton. Everything was going really well until the owner sold the place and they decided to turn it into a steakhouse without consulting me, even though I had a contract in place. It ended really, really badly.’

Porthleven 26-28 April 2024