Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin is on a mission to get us all eating more game.
His new book, Meat & Game, is stuffed with tantalising recipes for partridge, grouse and pigeon, as well as rabbit and venison, that should inspire us to go wild and try new things in the kitchen.
“I think people are a bit bored of Saturday night steak, you know?” says Tom, 40, who runs The Kitchin restaurant and The Scran & Scallie pub in Edinburgh.
Game isn’t too tricky to cook, even though it will probably impress your guests, he says. “I’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible, so the person reading the book says, ‘Do you know? I can do that’. And how much of a show-off that is... You have a dinner party and you knock up a bit of rabbit, a bit of wild buck, and they’re like, ‘Wow!’
“I think about my mum too - every year, someone would give her a brace of pheasants and, more often than not, they’ll end up in the freezer. In the back of her mind, she’s like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do something with pheasant’ and she’s got one recipe, pheasant casserole, which is nice, you know, but there’s so many different things she could do with that pheasant.”
So there’s potted pheasant, Asian poached pheasant, pheasant cock-a-leekie, barbecue pheasant and even pheasant and partridge scotch eggs, to spice up those Saturday dinners.
Tom believes game has had a bit of a tough time - seen as simply the preserve of those who go on shooting parties, but wants to reclaim it as meat for everyone, adding: “I’ve never shot anything in my life, honestly!”
He’s pleased that game is starting to be recognised as a healthier meat alternative too: “People are starting to understand that eating venison is accessible, it’s so lean, it’s so tasty, it’s not too expensive... It’s about getting out there and getting it.”
Some children will eat game - Tom’s do.
Tom has four boys, Kasper, 9, Axel, 7, and identical twins Lachlan and Logan, who’ve just turned 4, with his Swedish wife Michaela, who is also his business partner.
“They’re real foodies. They’ve been brought up in the restaurant, especially the first one - my wife was answering the phone and taking bookings rocking the Maxi-Cosi (car seat) at her feet. “We have a pub, so we eat there all the time, and they’ll say, ‘Can I have lobster today? Can I have the crab or the grouse?’ He takes them foraging and says: “I love to get the kids to understand that when something comes into season, that’s when we’re going to eat it. So when it’s the start of the asparagus season, ‘Right guys, come on, we’re going to have asparagus tonight’, or the first strawberries. They understand seasonality a little bit.”
Tom admits balancing work and home life is a “juggling act”, but says his secret is not living in London.
“I lived in London for many years, I see my friends who live there and think to myself, ‘No thanks’. I’m really happy here in Edinburgh, it’s like a manageable-size city. I can take the kids to school in the morning, get to the restaurant, go back at half past three and get them and come back to the restaurant for five, you know? I can just get around that little bit easier.
“All those times we were thinking of setting up in London and then when we actually came home, that’s one of the best decisions we made. Trying to get that balance is really difficult, but it works for us.”
There’s no “crazy romantic story” to how he became a chef, but he got a a job washing dishes in a local pub at 14 for pocket money and “just loved the adrenaline of the kitchen”.
“I didn’t really like school, I wasn’t very good at it, so I wanted out as quickly as possible,” he says. “Back then, cooking wasn’t rock and roll like it is now, like when you said to your mum and dad you want to leave school at 16 and be a chef, it really wasn’t what they were planning I guess. I’m just amazed that they supported me. I met really good people, but I worked incredibly hard, I don’t know where I got this gritty determination to keep going... I just wanted to work for the best chefs in the world, which obviously was quite gruelling, but I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for that.” Tom Kitchin’s Meat & Game by Tom Kitchin photography by Marc Millar, is published in hardback by Absolute Press, priced £26. Available now.