What Does a Superstar Chef Cook at Home? - EIBF 2012 Review
Kirsty Wark, introducing Tom Kitchin, the "superstar chef", said we were in for a great culinary treat - and so it proved, as the audience enjoyed a really splendid hour with two polished performers.
Kirsty Wark added that Kitchin was the youngest person ever to receive a Michelin star at the age of twenty nine, having opened his restaurant, The Kitchin, in a most unpromising place, Leith, six years ago, where five other restaurants had failed.
Things had gone well initially although Kitchin said he enjoyed establishing himself and particularly receiving his Michelin star, then opening another restaurant in Castle Terrace in 2010. His aim is to always produce something very special and his new book, which is not generally due to be in bookshops until later in the year, is available only here at the Edinburgh International Book Festival - as a special pre-publication opportunity.
Kirsty Wark asked Tom Kitchin how he began cooking and he confessed that he could not boil an egg initially, but started as a kitchen hand. He said he loved the buzz and adrenalin rush of being in a busy kitchen.
At the age of seventeen he moved to Gleneagles which he found pretty brutal; he was working to a Chef de Partie who was very 'tough' (not Kitchin's word!) but this was good for him as it taught discipline. He then moved to London which was another bruising experience, although it was excellent training and he really was beginning to understand the essentials of cooking.
A spell in Paris followed which was difficult as his French was limited and where he was frequently referred to as, "le Roast Beef" to which he would reply, "no le Haggis!" In all of this there was, he knew, the need to get respect for his ability - as staff lunches merged into gastronomy he felt the need to move again. He went to work for Marco Pierre White at Harry's in Wandsworth - Kitchin's comment, "he made cooking fun!"
Talking about his television appearances Tom Kitchin said that he felt one had really to grab opportunities as they occur; in this case with some seven to eight million people watching Masterchef, it would have been stupid to have turned down the chance to appear before this audience.
Of course, it had its spin-off as it produced a twenty five percent increase in bookings at the restaurant!
He said there was an "amazing level of loyalty towards the chefs" within the cast when doing team cooking and he found this quite engaging. But there is pressure obviously, although his training prepared him well for this.
Kitchin admitted that the Leith start-up had been very difficult, having to borrow money from every source within the family and from friends, but it has worked.
The rule he set himself was that everything had to be top quality, absolutely the best ingredients. He liked to devise his own special recipes - even for well known Scottish dishes.
As for staff he also demands the best and, now his name is known, he can be ruthless in selecting the best people. He claimed that he was not a "shouty person" but Kirsty Wark did not seem to believe him!
Tom Kitchin spoke with huge enthusiasm about his recipes and his determination always to serve the very best. He readily admitted that his restaurants were not cheap, but he said that the price of good ingredients had simply shot up over the past year. He said he spoke to all his suppliers every day to keep closely in touch with them. He always wanted to have the first first salmon, or the first grouse (he does not believe in hanging grouse!).
Kitchin spoke lovingly about some of his recipes such as his potato gratin, his carrot cake recipe (which came from his American pastry chef), and his lamb cooked on a bed of hay - the hay coming from a small pet shop at the foot of Leith Walk!
In questions he said he had not suffered unduly during the recession as people seemed to save up to come out to his restaurants and have a really fabulous meal as a special treat. He admitted that he really wants to get a second Michelin star, so if you want a really good meal turn up on your own, without a booking and see what happens!
Asked if anyone dared invite him out for dinner, he said he liked to relax with family and friends, but there was a shout of, "come to my house Tom" from the back of the theatre, so there is hope for him!