Please note this interview took place before the new regulations were announced on 22/9/20.
This week Lumina’s Hospitality Innovation Series of webinars featured an interview and Q&A with leading chef and restaurateur Adam Handling. Adam started his culinary training as the first apprentice chef at the famous Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. He went on to work in London before becoming sous chef at the Malmaison hotel in Newcastle. He then moved back to Scotland to become the Fairmont Group’s youngest ever head chef at the Fairmount St Andrews. Following that he took on the role of head chef at St.Ermins Hotel in St James Park. From there, he entered and became a finalist in series 6 of Masterchef The Professionals in 2013. Since then he has set up his own group of critically acclaimed restaurants notably: Frog by Adam Handling, Eve Bar, The Frog Hoxton, Adam Handling Chelsea and Ugly Butterfly. Sadly as a result of the impact of Covid19 both The Frog Hoxton and Ugly Butterfly (his zero waste pop-up) have closed, but as one door closes another opens as Adam went on to reveal….
The most notable thing about Adam is his positive and bullish attitude in the wake of the current Covid crisis. It is clear he is not one to sit on his laurels or lick his wounds, but instead he has used what positives can be taken from his current situation. Despite having to close two restaurants the rest of his group is back up and running with the addition of his new Toad on the Road Zero Waste restaurant outside his restaurant The Frog in Covent Garden (in line with his commitment to always have a zero waste restaurant which can utilise off cuts not used on his other menus). It is fair to say that agility over the past few months has been a hugely valuable asset and it seems Adam has this in spades.
On re-opening, his take on being Covid safe is based on what would make him feel safe and enjoy a meal out. That means warm towels and homemade (in their lab) non-alcoholic hand sanitiser on all tables (which is taint-free; essential when you are using your hands for cooking; and suitable for those with sensitive skin like Adam). Temperature checks for all staff and a clear ‘if you don’t feel well stay home policy’, a one way system and socially distanced tables, the usual high standards of hygiene and of course track and trace. Indeed, as Adam points out quite rightly, hospitality is generally a very clean industry with people washing their hands all the time, so they were half way there already and as things hopefully return to normal in time he intends to retain a number of the measures including the hand sanitiser and warm towels.
What you won’t see in his restaurants is waiting staff with masks, as Adam feels they are more suited to an operating theatre than a restaurant. As for social distancing in the kitchen its just not possible, but he trusts his staff to behave responsibly and frankly as they spend most of their time working together he is fairly confident in their set-up, and the only two cases he has had have been front of house not back of house.
In a time when there has been a lot of doom and gloom Adam has taken a number of real positives from the Covid crisis. Firstly he’s had three months to develop the restaurants’ menus and whereas some have come back with reduced offering to make back of house life easier, conversely he has raised the bar and created a whole new menu to stretch his growing team and delight customers.
The second has been the success of Hame his new nationwide delivery concept. Having said it was something he would never do, Covid forced his ever-sanitised hand and he’s never looked back. No wonder, when it is making up 22-23% of sales which can rise to 40% when they launch a new menu. With a mix of home comforts and restaurant excitement (as he puts it) the service has been a lifesaver during lockdown and continues to be popular with consumers, giving those who don’t want to venture out or live too far away a simple way to experience his food.
Thirdly, has been the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, adopted by operators from Michelin starred restaurants to pubs and cafes, which he is continuing into September for Covent Garden afternoon tea and lunch in his Chelsea site, mainly due to the fact that dinner poses no problem for filling covers, but with so many offices empty, day time is more challenging. Finally, a real benefit that he has seen overall from the crisis is the move for the industry to work together, be that strengthening supplier partnerships or charity link-ups, there has been a lot of good that has come out of the crisis.
On the negative side he feels landlords in London need to be more understanding and work with operators to help avoid closures (although he has come across exceptions with two of his sites). Restaurateurs need to stop moaning about no shows and simply apply a charge on booking to cover their costs if they fail to turn up. This has two benefits: one, it ensures you don’t actively lose money and two, Adam has noted that they will often spend more having already paid the deposit earlier when they booked – bonus!
Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, Adam is already looking to expand in London, as for why he’s not keen to move out of town, it is simple, he wants to be able to be in his restaurants so having them close together makes logistical sense. Maybe one day when he reaches the right point but London is where he will focus for now. So watch this space to find out what’s next for this irrepressible chef restaurateur.
Thanks to Lumina for another great webinar, To find out more about their insight services visit www.lumina-intelligence.com