Tom Kitchin: A chef who can stand the heat

Image caption Tom Kitchin was the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star

Tom Kitchin never wanted to be a celebrity chef.

However, six years after becoming one of the youngest chefs to receive a Michelin star, aged just 29, there is no doubt he has acquired that status.

He has appeared on a range of TV shows from the Great British Menu to Saturday kitchen and is one of the top judges on the prime time cookery show Masterchef.

Kitchin told BBC iPlayer - Stark Talk Tom Kitchin that the celebrity chef phenomenon had "totally glamorised cooking out of all proportions over the past 10 years".

"When we opened the restaurant six years ago I said 'I am never doing telly'," Kitchin said.

"But if there are nine million people watching Masterchef and I have got a 50-seater restaurant in the back streets of Leith, it is not rocket science."

Tested to the limits

He said shows such as Masterchef had sparked a healthy interest in food but the flip side was the stacks of letters he got from people wanting to work in his restaurant as the quickest way to become a celebrity.

"I am a chef and I have dedicated my life to this profession," he said.

That dedication was tested to its limits by his training which included having potato peelings poured over him by Pierre Koffmann, the legendary chef at La Tante Claire in London.

Kitchin, who grew up in rural Kinross-shire, quit fee-paying school Dollar Academy at 16 to pursue his dream to be a chef.

He worked at the nearby Lomond Country Inn while studying at Perth College.

Kitchin then did a spell at Gleneagles before his move to London to work for Koffmann, aged 18.

"Talk about being put out of your comfort zone," he said.

"I was so out of my depth it was not funny. Every day was absolute misery. If you work extremely long hours and you get your backside kicked for most of those hours you become mentally tough. That was the making of me."

Kitchin said Koffmann, who he now considers to be like a second father and mentor, would regularly take him to the brink of tears.

The incident with the potato peelings came after Kitchin failed to use up the leftovers.

"That was one of the days I had really had enough. I was getting my knives. I was off. I was out of there.

"I'd seen so many chefs just go. They couldn't take it any more. And this was my moment."

Amazing venues

He said a friend called Helena Puolakka, also now a top-rated chef, grabbed him "by the neck" and said "you are not going anywhere".

Kitchin said: "If I had gone, god knows where I would have been."

While working for Koffmann at La Tante Claire, Kitchin was so broke he took another job with Anton Mosimann on his day off.

"We used to go to amazing venues and do functions and that's where I met my wife-to-be."

But Kitchin did not get together with Michaela until later.

First he hooked up with his friend from Gleneagles, Dominic Jack, who was already in Paris.

Kitchin got a job with Guy Savoy for a year.

Then after another stint in London he went to work with Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo.

Kitchin said every time he had progressed he had taken two steps back.

"I remember when I was at Tante Claire, someone offered me this job and it was good money, less hours, new restaurant, a funky London place and I said 'Chef, this is what I'm going to do'.

"He said 'No, you are not. You are going to France'.

"Sometimes you need guidance like that."

Holy grail

Alain Ducasse made him go back to the bottom again as third commis chef.

It was a 50-seater restaurant with 25 staff but there was no shortage of hard work.

Kitchin said: "He has a concept called 'a la minute' - which means that the ingredient is raw when you order it.

"It is then cooked and served.

"So if you order the turbot and its got artichokes, carrots and whatever, then those artichokes are holed, peeled, cut, prepared for every single diner.

"That's why they have 25 chefs. It is the epitome of gastronomy. It is the holy grail. In my eyes there is no restaurant like it in the world."

A spell working for Sir Anthony and Lady Bamford on their yacht gave Kitchin some money to start his restaurant but he was still looking for bank finance.

Dropping the names of Michelin-starred French gastronomic legends did not cut much ice with bankers in Edinburgh, especially as the site in Leith which Kitchin had chosen was a "graveyard" for restaurants.

But eventually, along with Michaela, he set up the appropriately-named The Kitchin in June 2006.

Within six months he had a Michelin star.

The 18-hour days continue but Kitchin said there was nothing he would rather be doing.

So much for celebrity.

Edi Stark in conversation with Tom Kitchin is available on the iplayer. Click the link.

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