Interview with Tom Kitchin

Scot-born chef and TV presenter Tom Kitchin became the youngest chef-proprietor to win a Michelin star for his restaurant, The Kitchin, when he was just 29. Since then his career has soared, securing him a place next to some of the biggest names in the British culinary scene

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your new cookbook, Tom Kitchin’s Meat & Game?

TK: Game is something I’m really passionate about. It gets a bit of a raw deal sometimes, everyone seems to put it in the bracket of lords and ladies, upper class, ‘Only the rich eat game’—which is absolute rubbish. I could tell you that I’ve never shot any bird in my life or anything. My love of game comes from all the restaurants that I’ve worked in and wonderful produce; that’s where it comes from. What I’ve tried to do is show how accessible game is and how versatile it is. So if you take all the different types of game—you’ve got grouse, pheasant and partridge—I’ve given eight recipes for each game that are really accessible at home. If someone gives you pheasants or if you’re at a market and you see some pheasants…I want people to say, ‘Oh Tom Kitchin’s book, I can do a pheasant curry or a pheasant soup’. All these different recipes that the home cook can enjoy and that are achievable. 

Q. Is cooking with game considered uncharted territory for some?

TK: I definitely think people shy away from cooking with game, but I think people are getting more and more adventurous. It’s about shaking off those shackles everyone has got. You can substitute chicken for pheasant or anything. But it’s not about breaking your spend. Instead of buying a nice chicken, it’s probably cheaper to buy some pheasant or partridge. 

Q. What is the easiest way to spot a good quality cut of meat?

TK: You have to be visually alert to the way the meat is looking, how it’s been stored and where you’re buying it. Does it look fresh or does it look aged? Try to build a relationship with your butcher and your market and where you get your meat from. The fun of getting people to cook is them starting to learn where their food comes from and that kind of relationship. I want people to start thinking about their weekend meals and what they’re going to do. On a Thursday when the weekend is approaching, I want them to start thinking what they’re going to cook. You start to have that nice frame of mind, ‘Oh, I’ve got friends coming, I’ve seen a recipe and I want to try it’. It’s kind of a foreplay excitement. 

Q. Tell us, what is the secret to cooking game?

TK: It’s like any other meat. Some parts of the meat you’ll want to cook pink like a good steak and some parts you’ll want to braise and become soft and tender and want to slow cook them. In my book, I’ve highlighted some parts of the animal and why you’re braising and why you’re poaching them. I’ve tried to take everything into context; I’ve done a roast like you would do a roast on a Sunday. Try to avoid crazy chef-y stuff like reducing stock. I think sometimes chefs get a bit carried away. When you’re cooking at home, you just don’t have that kind of space or someone washing up after you. 

Q. In terms of game, what is your favourite meat, cooking method and why?

TK: I love the grouse chapter. Grouse is really special to me; it’s such a great meat. I love some of the braised ribs in the beef section. There is one section—everything is accessible—but there is one section where people will think ‘Oh my goodness’, and that is the woodcock and snipe section. You’ve got to be a little bit ‘next level cooking’ to take that one on. But I really love that section. My favourite recipe from this book is the grouse with bread sauce. 

Q. Do you enjoy writing cookbooks? What is your favourite part of the whole process?

TK: It’s fun when you inspire someone; it’s really heartwarming. That’s what we do as chefs. I see something on Instagram or in a book or at a restaurant. I’m inspired and in my head I take that and change it and then it becomes my recipe. I want people to do that with these recipes. You take a recipe, you do it once and you put your own stamp on it. It is a long process, but it’s amazing to see the jobs of all these people who help bring a book together. I love the photography stage; I think that’s really incredible when that comes together. You’ve got all of these creative minds in the room. I cook everything myself, so every dish in this book I’ve done myself—I’ve not taken anyone in, I’ve put my heart and soul into it. 

Q. Turning to your restaurant…can you tell us about how you came about opening your first eatery?

TK: I was working in some of the best restaurants in the world in London and France. My wife was very much in hotels, she had great training as well and we were thinking about trying to open [a restaurant] in London. But I’m originally from Edinburgh and it made sense to come back to Edinburgh. We started very humbly and quietly. We were myself and three chefs and my wife out front, and some staff. Six or seven people at the beginning. And now we have three restaurants and employ 150 people, so it grew massively. 

Q. Can you tell us about the moment you found out you achieved your first Michelin star?

TK: We opened the restaurant in June 2006. Back then Michelin stars came out in January. Me and my wife got married in August and closed the restaurant in January to go on holiday—our honeymoon—and we reopened for a day or two and the phone rang and my friend called me and said, ‘You’ve got a Michelin star!’ I was like ‘Sh*t, you’re joking!’. Then it got busy; a lot of people coming just because of the Michelin star. It just grew from there really. 

Q. What advice would you give to your younger chef self?

TK: You’ve got to find the passion for it; you’ve got to understand that it’s a really gruelling industry, but it’s also a very rewarding industry as well. You have to give and be prepared to give everything to it. You’ll want to go out and you’ll want to have a social life, but you’re going to have to sacrifice quite a lot if you want to make it to the top. But—on the other hand—you can travel the world, you can always work in great establishments, learn cultures. Really give everything you’ve got to the industry and everything will fall into place. 

Q. What are some of the ingredients you always have in your fridge and cupboard?

TK: I always have really good salt, really good olive oil. I also have spelt and grains, I love eating that. I always have salted butter in the fridge and I always have really good honey. I love honey. Honey on toast—but it’s got to be really proper honey. 

Q. What is your idea of a simple supper?

TK: I was lucky enough to go on holiday with the kids in Barbados in the Caribbean. I always buy this Caribbean Cajun spice mix when I’m there. It’s really great stuff and a bit like a jerk chicken kind of thing. You just cut up some chicken and you really cover it in this Cajun spice, fry it off and do a nice tortilla with lettuce, sour cream, some avocado, some onion and then you put the chicken inside. The kids love it. It’s really fast and tasty. 

Q. What food is your guilty pleasure?

TK: My wife is Swedish and they have these salty sweeties that we’re all addicted to. Kind of a liquorice, salty sweety—she hides them from me and from the kids and she orders them especially from Scandinavia. I steal them quite a lot and I blame it on the kids. 

Q. Where do you get your inspiration from when it comes to cooking?

TK: You get inspiration from the craziest of places. But when you work with seasonality religiously, the menu evolves all the time anyway. If you work with the seasons, your menu will change all the time as the seasons change. If you follow food pages on Instagram, those can be a source of inspiration too. People are posting stuff that they’re really proud of, and you can just scroll through. Cookbooks…going to eat out at restaurants—it doesn’t always have to be fancy restaurants. And also travelling is a source of inspiration too.

Q. How important is seasonality in your cooking?

TK: Seasonality is everything. Without seasonality, my cooking is nothing. I only use things that are in season. I know exactly when something is in season, then I use it and the day it finishes it’s off the menu. We don’t have asparagus all year round, we don’t have strawberries all year round and we don’t have raspberries all year round. •

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