Kevin Burke is a man that we will be hearing more and more about in the future. He heads up the kitchen team at the Michelin starred The Ninth London, and took time out from speaking at FOTE to speak to us.
WB: Kevin Burke tell us about you, where do you work now, where have you worked before, and what brings you Food on the Edge?
KB: So, I started off quite late, I didn't really start going to college until I was 20 or 21 when I started in DIT culinary arts, and that's what really started things for me in terms of knowing what food was about and the main thing that it did to me was it got me into good restaurants.
So it started me off by sending me to Venue Brasserie which was owned by Charles Guilbaud, where I was for a couple of years, and when that closed I got the opportunity to stage in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud which was probably one of the biggest influences, and one of the places where I learned.
WB: Were your folks or family in the restaurant business before that?
KB: No, no one in the food business really. I was always obsessed by really simple things like cookery programs on the telly or what cooking my granny was doing. Looking back, I was obsessed with cooking and food. So when I started in Guilbaud’s that was a really big learning curve, in terms of its sort of “sink or swim” in there, but with a really good atmosphere. I was there for two years and then I left for a couple of months and I came back for a year and a half and then after that my mother was setting up her café, The Sticky Bun, in Clonakilty in West Cork, so I helped her for a few months to get things going and then when that was up and running I took the big jump over to London.
In London I started off in Pollen Street Social, where a former colleague from Guilbaud’s was working. I was a sous chef there for about two years and then I met Jun Tanaka. He owns the restaurant I am currently working in, which is called The Ninth London and so I met him and had a chat about what he wanted to do with a new opening, he wanted to do really informal dining. Simply put: just delicious food in a casual atmosphere to really just break down those perceived borders and offer a great dining experience to everyone…
…It’s a really good working atmosphere in terms of everyone is going into work in a happy kitchen. Jun don't want any shouting or that sort of ego. I told Jun I wanted to work on a new opening and I sort of wanted to go somewhere that's a bit more of an independent restaurant.
One day I hope to move back to Ireland and start something myself, and I wanted to see how it's done. In other kitchens I didn't really do much paperwork and I never understood the business outside of the stoves. This was a brand new restaurant, it had no name, it didn’t have a star, so we could build it our way. I started there in 2015 and have never looked back.
WB: When I hear Fitzrovia straight away I think of overpriced restaurants and a very narrow customer base. Were you nervous about an opening in Fitzrovia?
KB: You’re dead right! It's a really affluent area but you get nervous opening any restaurant, there is all your typical barriers but we always know we could get the right people coming in and we always thought we were going to do a certain type of food which would attract people and that was the hard part. It was just getting things going and just finding your way in the London food scene. It's all about planning and being ready, and I feel like we were.
Food On the Edge:
Kevin had appeared on a discussion panel earlier that day with three other Irish chefs to discuss “Irish Chefs Abroad, the panel consisted of Michael along with Danni Barry formerly of Deane’s EIPIC and Clenaghans, joining them was Marguerite Keogh who is head chef at the Five Fields restaurant in London, and Aidan McGee head chef of Corrigan’s Mayfair.
WB: what was the message you wanted to press home from the discussion about Irish Chefs abroad:
KB: My main thing was to encourage, If I can say something encouraging that someone else can take from it if they're thinking about moving away to work outside Ireland. I wanted to put a positive spin on it. It’s not a negative thing anymore about leaving Ireland. In the 70’s if you left you didn’t come back: Now it's: “you leave, you learn and you can return and share what you've seen and done”.