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Global Foodservice: Reinventing Leith

The Kitchin contributes to revitalization of Scottish waterfront area

By Anthony Fletcher
July 01, 2012

Tom Kitchin’s passion for Scottish seafood and respect for quality seasonal produce have made him one of the U.K.’s most famous chefs. Becoming the world’s youngest recipient of a Michelin star at age 29 might have brought him international recognition, but he remains faithful to his roots. 

“My interest in cooking started when I was 13 years old, in the local pub washing pots and pans,” explains Kitchin. “I’d be lying if I said it was my dream [to run a restaurant] from that age, but I got the adrenalin rush of working in the kitchen. I loved it.” 

He left school as soon as he could, spending five years in London and five years in France training with some of the world’s top chefs. He returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, to open his Michelin-starred and French-influenced restaurant The Kitchin, in June 2006. He chose to locate his restaurant in Leith, Edinburgh’s waterfront district that in recent years has undergone dramatic regeneration. 

“Starting up a business in the center of town would have been just too expensive,” he says. “So Leith was an opportunity, we believed in ourselves, and of course, Martin Wishart had been here for a few years.” 

Wishart opened his eponymous restaurant in Leith in 1999 and, like Kitchin, has gone on to become a renowned chef. Together with the Plumed Horse, which relocated to Leith in 2006, these three restaurants form the so-called “Michelin triangle” and have helped to establish the waterfront as one of the U.K.’s smartest culinary spots. 

But before the accolades comes the hard work. Kitchin started humbly, using local, seasonal ingredients he thought diners would appreciate, and worked non-stop. 

“I mean, at the beginning we were empty!” he says. “We were lucky though, because we knew a lot of people down here who could help us out — plumbers, builders, people like that. We didn’t have a vision as such, but things worked out. We were also fortunate to get some good reviews, and in January 2007, we were awarded our Michelin star. Since then we’ve taken off.” 

And so has Leith. The waterfront was cleaned up and small businesses have moved in. Gentrification has made the neighborhood extremely popular with young professional couples, and the waterfront is now bustling with seafood restaurants and bars. 

This part of town now has an attractive village feel, and locals form a strong attachment to the district. “I identify with Leith,” says Kitchin. “We’re involved in local charities, local schools, and I think we bring a lot to Leith; this little restaurant brings in 30,000 diners a year.”  

Kitchin’s restaurant has therefore become part of the community. It is a celebration of Scottish produce, and since opening, has also built a reputation for near-fanaticism when it comes to seasonal food. Diners at The Kitchin this month have a mouth-watering choice of seasonal seafood. Starters include scallop and asparagus (£19), razor clams (£17.50) and salmon and crab tartare (£17.50). Current entrées include turbot and cuttlefish (£37), seared fillet of cod (£30) and roasted tail of monkfish (£68 for two). 

Kitchin is passionate about developing a deeper understanding of why eating seasonally is so important. “I would urge you to go up to Orkney or wherever and see what conditions these people [suppliers] have to work in,” he says. “Fish migrate, they move around, so I think chefs need to be more flexible with their suppliers, when asking for this or that. It is simply not possible to have the same fish all year round.” 

Contributing Editor Anthony Fletcher lives in Brussels 

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