Kenny Tutt: restaurants owned by classically trained-chefs stand the same chance of failing as MasterChef winners'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

As a chef, you might watch MasterChef with an eyebrow raised: with only weeks spent working in a kitchen and little experience of how to run a restaurant, the likelihood that contestants will go on to launch a successful venture might seem low. 

We've seen it time and time again: MasterChef winner opens restaurant. Business booms while the novelty lasts, but then the buzz dies down, the restaurant flails for two or three years and finally closes, a tragedy for everyone involved. 

2018 victor Kenny Tutt wants to prove that this doesn't have to be the case. The former branch manager at Santander launched his inaugural restaurant in Worthing last week, Pitch, and despite the immense effort that went into it, he said: “It feels amazing. I haven’t slept for four or five days, but it’s the most incredible thing.”  

The 36 year-old chef owner of Pitch restaurant,  located a few steps from Worthing's pier on the coastal town's main street wants to put good produce on plates for the local community to enjoy in a relaxed, casual setting. 

After winning MasterChef, having composed himself and gone through the usual motions of obligatory press interviews and photo shoots, Kenny was still working a 9 to 5, alongside which he hosted pop-ups at food festivals, private dining events, and supper clubs, as well as attending talks and food education interventions in schools.

It was only after a year that he decided to pack in the day job.

“Trying to juggle all the balls, I just thought: ‘I can’t do both. I’m either a bank manager and I work in that world or this is the world I’m in. I chose the latter and this is why I’m here now." 

What does it take to open a restaurant from scratch? 

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Kenny Tutt and his front of house team
at Pitch restaurant

Before he could do anything, he had to secure money for his project. “I was running around London trying to find investors with my little briefcase,” he laughed.  The business side,  which involves writing a business plan and drawing up a lease, he said, “sort of takes over for a bit,” he said,“because without that, you can’t have a restaurant.”

Next, he had to come up with a concept. He originally considered a Southern US-style brined fried American chicken restaurant, but settled on a “high-end bistro kind of vibe, where we’re free to do what we want.”

Kenny wants the food at Pitch to be playful, serving things like savoury doughnuts, oysters, baked and raw, but also British classics, like ham egg and chips – an elevated version.

“You take really classic great food that makes your heart thump and makes your heart sing and don’t get too far away from it. We haven’t deconstructed anything yet, and I don’t really plan to. If it’s really good, then why mess around with it?”

And what does he say to the chefs calling MasterChef 'the X-Factor of food'? 

The chef knows that the restaurant business is a risky one, and for him, in the current climate, all restaurants are prone to failure.

“You get phenomenal chefs who’ve been in the game for years whose restaurants fail." 

“I’ve worked in great kitchens, I’ve never stood there and said: ‘I’m a classically-trained chef.’  I have stood there and said: ‘I just really bloody love food, and I’ve got an idea that I really want to put on a plate.’"

And while he might encounter some technical limitations from time to time, he hopes that his willingness and ability to learn from the chefs he works with - currently, he has a consultant chef helping him to get the ball rolling at Pitch - will allow his restaurant to thrive. 

"You’ve got to be able to learn. If there are chefs out there that think they know everything, they might need to give up what they’re doing because it changes all the time anyway.”

Conceding that it's unlikely to be an easy ride, Kenny says he will persevere through hard times if he needs to.

"One thing I have always been able to do is to dust my own shoulder off and just get on with it,” he said.

Taking feedback with a touch of humility is crucial, and something he has been doing throughout the restaurant's soft launch. 

"I’m not audacious enough to go ‘no that’s right, they’re wrong,’ they are right. If someone says it’s not seasoned or it’s not right or you’re not using the right thing, you’ve got to listen to that, and that’s the same in any business,” he said. 

61561374 306149583601011 1551238811747352576 nHow do you arm yourself against failure? 

Owning a restaurant in a time of rising costs, skills shortages and economic uncertainty is bound to be difficult, but the chef said he has a plan to safeguard his  business: while he stresses the importance of having a good bookkeeper and a good accountant, crucial to success is building a strong team of committed people. 

"It's the simple stuff, but if you have a never ending revolving door of people coming and going then you will fail. Mark my words, you will fail and you will fail really quickly." 

"These are long hard hours. I get here at 6 [am] and sometimes don't leave until 2 or 3 in the morning. I do that because it's my business, but how do you get someone who - a KP or a commis or someone - how do you get them to invest in that same business, because they're sometimes going to have to work doubles and they're going to get those long hours - and that's the tricky bit." 

But ultimately, for him, making sure customers are happy is the key to both prosperity and longevity. 

He said: "Critics – brilliant – I’m sure we will get those, but I am cooking for the customer. I want them to come and eat. I want them to come back for their birthdays or anniversaries or bring their loved ones here.”

“Let’s face it, in this world, we can only reinvent the wheel so much, so from my view you’ve got to just take that very best stuff, put a smile on peoples’ face and enjoy it, and if they feel the enjoyment in the place, I’m there really.”

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 31st May 2019

Kenny Tutt: restaurants owned by classically trained-chefs stand the same chance of failing as MasterChef winners'