Tom Kitchin’s journey has led him from Pierre Koffmann’s mentee to mentoring the up-and-coming chefs of today. The youngest Michelin Starred Chef in Scotland has owned his restaurant ‘The Kitchin’ for 17 years and his passion doesn’t look set to diminish. Tom shares some advice from his time as a chef for those rising the ranks today.

Tom Kitchin, 45, won his first Michelin star in the first six months of ‘The Kitchin’ opening but despite his age, he had a rather mature attitude towards it.

“I didn’t think about celebrating. I was worried about who was coming in the next day. You are always trying to get better, always trying to be the best you can be, and always worried about who’s coming into the restaurant. You are only as good as your last meal. These are ethos that Koffmann ran into me and that’s exactly the way I am today,” Tom said.

He was not wrong about this. Over the course of the interview, he would go in and out of the kitchen grabbing pots and pans to keep food on the go while he was being interviewed. Even to this day, Tom is still hands-on in the kitchen and developing up-and-coming chefs similar to Pierre Koffmann back when Tom was learning the ways of the kitchen.

When Tom was working for Pierre Koffmann, it was a very different industry. “The feedback I got from chef was a little squeeze on the shoulder or when he was carving the duck, he would give me a piece of it. It was all silent feedback. He would give me a little bit of the crackling from the pork or let me taste the truffle mash,

“That was like a monumental moment in my life as a young commis chef. That was the moment I was like, ‘I’m doing alright here’. That was the best appraisal you could get,” Tom added.

Obviously, ways of giving feedback have now changed and adapted but those original fundamentals are still there. These adapted methods are ever-changing. “One of the biggest hurdles is managing people. This is a skill that nobody teaches you. That’s something I am always trying to get better at.” That attitude has allowed Tom to keep longevity.

“Keeping longevity is pure passion. I was saying to my wife the other day, something we should be proud of is that ‘The Kitchin’ is 17 years old and ‘Scran and Scallie’ is 10 years old. To have the fire still inside of us and the desire to get better and improve ourselves every day. That is a massive compliment to ourselves.”

But being in the industry at a high standard for so long doesn’t come without its setbacks. Tom said that he has had so many setbacks over his career from being young and lacking the knowledge to not knowing how to run a business when he first opened ‘The Kitchin’. “All of it is very stressful as a young chef.” However, Tom has learnt all of this during his time at the top and has now gone from mentee to mentor passing down his knowledge.

The dining room at Tom Kitchin’s Michelin starred restaurant ‘The Kitchin’.

“Becoming a mentor means you’re getting older, doesn’t it? But it’s very rewarding. I get as much enjoyment at seeing these young people progress and get better as I do cooking.” Tom said that he loves looking around Edinburgh and seeing people who have been through his restaurants succeed.

“I’m now at the age where I get to see young people come through. I love seeing someone come in who has got a great attitude, embracing it and giving it their best shot.” Tom said, “That’s what we say to people: work hard and doors will open. But if you don’t work hard, nothing will come. You have to put the effort in. No one’s going to give it to you on a plate.”

“Everyone that comes through has a little bit of DNA within them. It’s the whole tree of gastronomy, from me at Koffmann’s to them at ours. There are all these little things that bring it all together.” Tom has done this himself over his career, blending French techniques with Scottish ingredients to create his own style of cooking. This comes from spending time with the likes of Pierre Koffmann, Alain Ducasse and Lady Bamford as a young chef.

“You don’t want to stay in the same place forever, but you want to stay there long enough so you really understand the DNA and philosophy of the person. Then move on to the next one.” Tom said, “You take a little bit from everywhere, mix it together and then you have a nice recipe there. You take the good and the bad from everywhere and then you put your own twist on it.”

Tom consistently encourages young chefs to follow their own paths and be inspired rather than replicate the mentors they have along the way. Tom left with one last bit of advice for young chefs before having to go fully back to the kitchen.

“You don’t need to be a sous chef at 21 or a head chef at 25. It is a marathon. Take your time and embrace the industry. Do the work, the graft, the blood, the sweat and the tears. The sacrifice you make at the beginning will help you when you need those big jobs when you’re in your 30s and 40s. You want that experience. You don’t want to peak too soon. You want the journey. Get your colours first before you try to fly.”