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Pearls of Wisdom: Tom Kitchin

By Joe Lutrario , 04-Dec-2009

Chef Tom Kitchen chef/patron at The Kitchin in Leith, Edinburgh, shares his experience of working in the hospitality industry

Tom Kitchin is chef patron at The Kitchen in Leith, Edinburgh. He started his career working with Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire and was re-united with the chef recently at Koffmann's pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges.

 

My love of the industry stems from a young age, washing pots and pans for some pocket money at the local pub. I loved the adrenaline – the rush of the kitchen.

 

When I worked at Gleneagles there were 70 chefs in the kitchen. It was a good time to come into the industry but it changed while I was there – the big hotels started to look at costs and cut everything back.

 

Koffmann had the most influence on me, I worked for him as I went from boy to man.

 

With the book I was trying to get across how I got where I am. People think you just arrive, but there’s a lot of grafting and hard work that people forget.

 

Chef de parties used to be proper chefs – I’ve worked with some incredibly-talented ones – but now chefs are running a section at 19. Nobody wants to wait and learn the craft. People want to reach the top straight away.

 

There is no shortcut in this industry. You hear romantic stories about self-taught chefs but they are few and far between.

 

I embedded myself in the roots of gastronomy – I put myself through every mental barrier that came my way for 10 years, learning my trade from the best.

 

When ever I became too big for my boots as a young commis Koffmann cut me down to size. Humility is important as a youngster.

 

Your first stint as a young chef needs to be at a good place,  that’s where you’ll learn your key-techniques.

 

You’ll never take Pierre Koffmann out the kitchen, the guy lives and breathes cooking. I hope he finds a site, because his passion and drive are still there.

 

The food at Ducasse’s Louis XV is second to none, I don’t see how you could get better. Franck Cerutti is a phenomenal chef.

 

Putting together a cookbook was enjoyable and stressful. I waited to be approached, we didn’t go looking.

 

The American market and Japanese market is very important in Edinburgh. We’ve had pieces in Gourmet and Bon Appetit – you can have four extra bookings a night off the back of articles like that.

 

I never wanted to have anything to do with TV, but seeing the impact it’s had on the business has changed my mind. I will never overexpose myself though.

 

Pierre Koffmann’s pop-up restaurant was full-on. We couldn’t keep on top of the mise en place. All I can say is thank God for Eric Chavot and Bruno Loubet. It felt like being back at La Tante Claire, but with 120 for lunch.

 

Five stars from AA Gill the other month was incredible. In terms of bookings, I suppose it was a bit like winning a second star. The phone was ringing off the hook.

 

I don’t want to take over the world. Extending the kitchen and re-doing the toilets is a big thing for us at the moment as this business is entirely off our own backs. It’s not like someone’s put millions behind us.

 

We have to make sure that this product is spot on before we think about expanding.

 

I nearly walked out of Pierre Koffmann’s kitchen as a young cook. I was very tired and it was a difficult day – I couldn’t see a way out. If someone hadn’t talked me out of it I would have gone back to Scotland and ended up working in a mediocre hotel. I’m very glad I didn’t.

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