Tom Kitchin, The Kitchin, Edinburgh

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th September 2013

Tom Kitchin is chef-patron of Michelin-starred The Kitchin in Leith, Edinburgh.   In a glittering career he has worked for some of the best chefs in the world including Pierre Koffmann, Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy as well as becoming the youngest Scottish chef to gain a Michelin star in 2007 for his restaurant, The Kitchin, where he continues to pursue his philosophy 'from nature to plate’. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out about his experiences on recent TV series, The Chef’s Protégé, his thoughts on the future of the Scottish culinary scene and his love of the Glorious Twelfth.   Is it possible to sum up the influence Pierre Koffmann has had on your career? With chef it’s been a very long process. When I first worked for him I was a young boy, only 18, just out of Scotland and new to London. I was very much out of my depth and just another boy in his kitchen.  From there to where we are today, where we speak two or three times a week and are like best friends, it has been a long and winding path with many rollercoaster moments for myself! Really he’s taken me from the boy to the man to the restaurateur. Every time we speak I still take little bits of information and little bits of knowledge because the man is a living legend with so much passion and so much still to pick his brains about. I’ve taken many of his qualities and developed some of them in a more modern kind of way, but the core values are still very much the same. Is there one piece of advice he gave you that has stayed with you more than any other? Not necessarily a piece of advice but just the whole ethos of putting all your energy into something. Television has glamorised restaurants and chefs so much but cheffing is not a quick way to becoming a celebrity. As a chef you’re going to face so many bridge moments in your life, by which I mean moments where you think you can’t continue, that it’s easier not to go to work, not to continue what you’re doing because you’re under so much pressure. You have to be very mentally strong to work with people like Pierre Koffmann.  Many of the top modern chefs in this country are very demanding people because that’s how we were trained, and that is what will make the next generation of chefs. You’ve had The Kitchin for seven years now; how has that journey been? At the beginning it was very hard. I was very demanding; I had just arrived out of Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV and no one knew me in Scotland so I was going through four to five to sometimes six chefs a week – they were running out the door! Thankfully now after seven years, it’s a very well-oiled machine; the chefs who come here know the score – they want it like I wanted it – and that allows us to develop and push to the next level. How was your experience on The Chef’s Protégé? I get approached to do lots of TV but I usually turn it down because I’m very much a chef’s chef. However this series was something very close to my heart so I agreed to do it. When it actually started and the friendly banter kicked in with Michel and Theo, it really dawned on me that this was a real competition, and I enjoyed every single minute of it. It was all very real, there were no TV personas and it was just about taking these kids to a new world they couldn’t have imagined. Seeing their faces light up when they tasted some great cooking – that was a really beautiful thing and really humbling. My protégé, Jamie MacKinnon, was in London for the first time in his life – that puts it all into perspective for me. And of course Jamie won it; is he now working for you? He’s already started. He’s in pastry at the moment. I’ve said to him: the TV series has finished now, this is reality. I think it’s a bit of a shock to the system but he’s getting on well! You cooked at Jamie Oliver and Alex James’s food festival, The Big Feastival in August; is that the kind of thing you enjoy doing? Seven years ago I could not have stood up and spoken to ten people; now I feel very confident doing it and I enjoy it too. I’m a great believer in pushing your comfort zones – taking things you’re not comfortable doing and making yourself comfortable at them. I can assure you – and any young chef will know what I’m talking about – when you have to do that first public speaking or that first demo, you don’t feel at all comfortable, but it’s about beating that and about getting your message across to people. With cheffing today you have to embrace media to a degree but I only do it when I feel it’s correct for me. It’s about hand picking the events and television that I think will be beneficial to my restaurant and to my brand. The game season has just started; how important is that to your philosophy of nature to plate? The Glorious Twelfth is a very monumental day and it was in my training as well – when the first grouse arrived at La Tante Claire it was a very special moment; only certain prestigious kitchens in London like Le Gavroche and La Tante Claire received the first grouse of the season. It was one of the first things I wanted to do here when I opened the restaurant – get the grouse on the 12th. I now go and pick them up straight from the grouse shoot, so they’re still warm. We come back and pluck them, and serve them that night on the menu; the tenderness and the flavour is just unbelievable. It’s one of those foodie things to do before you die – eating a young grouse caught in the first two weeks of the season. What do you think is the future of the Scottish culinary scene? Scottish produce is undoubtedly world class and it’s the envy of many countries in the world – the shellfish, the game, the beef, the lamb. Edinburgh now has more Michelin star restaurants than any other city in the UK outside London. We have some amazing chefs – Andrew Fairlie, Martin Wishart, Dominic Jack at Castle Terrace. Everyone talks about Scandinavia but I think Scotland could be the next big culinary destination because it’s really living and breathing it. You have four children now; as you get older do you see yourself moving out of the kitchen? No I’ve still got that Koffmann-esque nature in me. Naturally as  you grow, you get pulled in different directions but being at the restaurant, in the kitchen is the holy grail, it’s my bread and butter, so it’s very important that I continue to do that and try and take the restaurant to the next level. See Tom's recipe for Scottish grouse with bread sauce and game chips here See Tom's recipe for Roasted Partridge with Braised Lentils and Girolles here  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th September 2013

Tom Kitchin, The Kitchin, Edinburgh