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Tom Kitchin

Tom Kitchin

After two-and-a-half years with Pierre, Tom moved to Paris to work with Guy Savoy. ‘It was great – it was tough but I enjoyed it. I didn’t speak a word of French when I left but I started to grasp a bit of the language and move up the tree.’ Fourteen months later, though, Tom returned to London to work with Pierre once again. ‘I had unfinished business,’ he explains. ‘There was more to learn from him. When I came back I was more senior, I was one of his boys.’ Tom stayed for another two-and-a-half years, becoming an integral part of Pierre’s brigade at The Berkeley. ‘Five years of military service with Pierre Koffmann,’ he laughs.

Again, though, unfinished business beckoned, this time back in Paris. Time with Pierre Koffmann and Guy Savoy had made Tom into relatively hot property, and he snagged a place in the brigade at the three Michelin-starred Louis XV in Monte Carlo, run by the legendary Alain Ducasse. ‘I just wanted to work for the best,’ he shrugs. ‘It was brutal. I mean, insane. I can’t even explain what it was like. It’s the epitome of three Michelin star gastronomy. I had tough skin when I went to Ducasse – I was twenty-four years old and I could handle myself in that environment, but I dropped down from head sous chef with Pierre to third commis with Ducasse.’

It turned out to be the perfect finishing school for Tom – he left Monte Carlo to work as a private chef for Lord and Lady Bamford, with an idea to save enough money to open his own restaurant. There was originally a thought of opening in London, but he and his wife Michaela – whom he met whilst working for Guy Savoy – both wanted to return to Edinburgh. ‘We were engaged and looking for a restaurant – we ended up in Leith, honestly, because it was the only place we could afford,’ he says. ‘It worked out because it allowed us to start humbly, start small and grow organically, without any outside pressure.’

Early on, though, the signs were there that Tom was a meteoric talent on the rise. Six months after opening, The Kitchin won a Michelin star, making Tom – just twenty-nine years old at the time – the youngest Scottish chef to receive the prestigious award. Through impeccable sourcing of produce and classic French technique, Tom has lifted up farmers, producers and chefs around him.

Over a decade later, The Kitchin is a bastion of Scotland’s rejuvenated culinary scene, and it sits at the heart of an empire that includes the Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded Scran & Scallie, Southside Scran, the Bonnie Badger and Castle Terrace, run by longtime friend Dominic Jack. ‘Edinburgh has changed a lot in fifteen years,’ he nods. ‘People are coming here as a foodie destination, which is fantastic. We’re breaking the shackles of deep-fried pizzas and Mars bars.’

Where Tom was once a commis chef under the wing of Pierre Koffmann, now he is the mentor. Many great chefs have come through his kitchens over the years, and he clearly embraces the opportunity to become a guiding hand for young cooks. ‘It’s a surreal feeling sometimes,’ he admits. ‘I’m very proud of all the chefs who come through here and go on to further themselves. I think you naturally run your kitchen the way your mentors ran theirs – I have always run this restaurant with a firm fist and discipline so I push my chefs hard to fulfil their potential.'

Though Tom spreads his time nowadays between managing his many restaurants, looking after his staff and his four children, he is still a constant presence on the pass at The Kitchin. The enthusiasm for the industry that served him so well three decades ago hasn’t waned – ‘I just spread my time differently now,’ he muses.

Three things you should know

Tom has released multiple cookbooks and has become a familiar face on TV, having appeared on shows like Saturday Kitchen, Masterchef and Great British Menu.

In June 2012, Tom received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts degree from Edinburgh Napier University for his significant contribution to Scottish Food Culture.

Tom has won multiple awards over the course of his distinguished career, including Chef of the Year from the Observer in 2010 and Scottish Chef of the Year in 2007.