Paul Kitching creates dinner for four Michelin chefs

MANY have faced the pressure of cooking an elaborate meal for family, friends or colleagues which simply had to go right.

Only in our worst nightmares would the guest list include four two-star Michelin chefs waiting to sample the delicacies from the kitchen.

For renowned city chef Paul Kitching – himself the holder of one star from the fine dining guide – that was the prospect.

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He admits he slaved over the menu for a week ahead of his top diners arriving, to make sure his eight-course feast was just perfect.

Fortunately, the 50-year-old – who welcomed the top chefs to his 21212 restaurant on Royal Terrace – said: “They ate like horses, drank like fish and smoked like chimneys, so it was a stereotypical gathering of chefs.”

The top chefs – Tom Kerridge, Claude Bosi, Andrew Fairlie and Sat Bains – concluded Kitching would soon be adding an extra Michelin star to join their elite ranks.

However, despite his own “pretty relaxed” approach to the scrutiny his restaurant was under, his staff were nervous about cooking for diners whose approach to food they had studied.

Kitching said: “I said to my team beforehand, ‘You’re not cooking for eight Michelin stars, you’re cooking for my friends’ so we have to get it right.

“There was probably more pressure on my sous chef, Kate Johnston, but she worked hard for it and the rest of the guys rose to the challenge. I did the menu and was pretty relaxed about it and went to the dining room for the meal.

“It took a week to plan the menu and get together what we wanted to do, how we wanted to serve. It was giving due respect to the chefs who were coming.

“I’m sure my team felt some pressure, though. And the visiting chefs kept going down to the kitchen between courses and frightening the life out of everyone.

“I remember when I was young and Marco Pierre White or Raymond Blanc would come in and you’d think, ‘Oh my God’, so I can imagine my guys were feeling the same way.”

Kerridge, who runs the The Hand and Flowers in Marlow; Bosi, the chef behind Hibiscus in London; Fairlie, Scotland’s only two-star chef at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles Hotel, and Bains – who runs Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, made their visit to the Capital on December 29 and Kitching was determined the evening would go well.

He said: “I’ve known Andy, Sat and Claude for many years. We’ve eaten at each other’s restaurants and we’re great mates. I’d never met Tom properly to have a chin-wag, so it was brilliant to get the chance to sit down with him.

“The meal came about because they were all going to Gleneagles to give a demonstration and promote Sat’s new book. It was Claude’s idea as he’d been meaning to come for a visit.

“We just talked about football and stuff rather than restaurants and flavours. It was more like a lads day out.

“We’re good friends, not rivals. The way we cook is also so different from each other.”

Kitching established 21212 with Katie O’Brien in May 2009, quickly scooping best new restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards and receiving a Michelin star just eight months after opening.

After the meal, Kitching was pleased with the feedback he received from the foursome.

“The reaction was lots of hugs and kisses. They thought we had the next two-star food,” he said. “Andy said it was a two-star place which, coming from the best chef in Scotland, was a huge compliment.”

Word from top: meal was a hit

ANDREW Fairlie, Scotland’s top chef, was one of the guests at the unique meal and he gave the Evening News his thoughts on the menu.

Host Paul Kitching used a minimalist approach for the menu descriptions to tantalise his diners, but the Gleneagles chef offered his recollections of the varied dishes.

• Champagne and Olives

• Beef: “It was a fillet of beef, slowly cooked, served rare which had some beautiful Thai flavours.”

• Soup: “The soup was pumpkin or winter squash served in a glass, with a puree at the bottom and a very creamy top. Lovely presentation and delicious.”

• Scallops: “Fabulous again, with tandoori spices, pieces of grapefruit, dried herbs, and crispy cod skins among the dish.”

• Meat: “Smoked pork fillet which was fantastic. Cold smoked then slow cooked, served with raw and cooked courgettes and crispy sage.”

• Cheese: “Every cheese under the sun, with goat’s cheese, hard and soft cheeses, and about half-a-dozen Scottish cheeses. We couldn’t finish them all.”

• Milk : “Porridge milk where he toasted the oats, infused some milk then drained it off. It was really malty, lovely and original.”

• Lemon Tart: “Beautiful thin pastry with a crispy sugary crust over it.”

• Fig Rolls: “Very Christmassy, cloves and

cinnamon wrapped in pastry.”

• Coffee

• hocolates

Fairlie said: “I love Paul’s food. It’s full of little surprises and was beautifully presented in lots of little bowls and things. It’s also very low fat, light cooking, so you can eat eight courses quite easily.”