When I was a young apprentice cook, I was working at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.
It was very traditional and I was very raw and working in a rough kitchen. We used to talk about London like it was a distant land, the other end of the world, but there was a book out at the time called White Heat by Marco Pierre White. It was written when Marco was down at Harveys in Wandsworth and that’s when chefs really became rock ‘n’ roll.
I remember him talking in the book about Pierre Koffmann and his stuffed pigs’ trotters, this iconic dish. I decided I wanted to move to London so I wrote a letter to Koffmann to see if he had any vacancies and was offered a day or two of work experience. He gave me a job at the end of it and that was the beginning of it all.
I didn’t really know his book, Memories of Gascony, until I saw customers ask him to sign it.
I was just a young Scotsman from a very normal, British family. I didn’t know the true roots of gastronomic cooking.
It’s an incredible story about how he was influenced by his grandmother and he remembers her teaching him how to kill the chickens and catch the crayfish and make the bread. I thought “whoa” but that first year I was there, I wanted to leave every single day. I wanted to come home to Scotland, it was absolutely brutal.
After that I started to get into the job and gain a bit of confidence and as I went on to other places, I found myself falling back on his book all the time. Not taking recipes and copying them, but thinking, “hmmm, what did he do with those beans?” Looking at it now, it’s a completely different generation of cookbook.
It’s so true to his roots and his origins. It’s like, “grab the cockerel by its neck and chop its head off” – you don’t get that in Waitrose magazine.
There isn’t a publisher telling him you have to make sure you can get the ingredients in the supermarket.
You won’t get another man like Koffmann. He walked in and the kitchen went silent. He was completely and utterly in control of everything he did. The things he executed to get flavours out of ingredients were incredible – he made me fall in love with cooking. Another thing I picked up was a joy of eating; this man loves eating. He had a no waste policy, which is a fundamental part of my cooking now. Nothing goes in the bin, whether it’s cod cheeks or pig’s trotter. I also learned that there’s no right or wrong thing to do as a chef.
I entered his kitchen as an 18-year-old so his book has taken on a nostalgic quality; I consider it a really important part of my life. It’s totally battered now but it’ll always have space on my shelf.
Tom Kitchin currently has a range of dishes-to-go at the Harrods Food Halls and his first pop-up in London, Kitchin at Harrods, will be open 14-20 November.
For bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org