The pile of sea-creatures glints emerald, rose, amethyst and pearl: a rococo brooch under a magnifying glass. You spot some familiar treasures from the beach—winkle, shrimp, sea wrack—and others more strange. Then the waiter appears with a little jug. "Now," he intones, "the tide is coming in." He pours a clear broth into the bowl. It washes around the fish-castle, gently poaching it. And that's your seafood chowder ready.
"I spent summer holidays on the beach near Arisaig [on Scotland’s west coast]. Now my children love picking around the rockpools," says Tom Kitchin, the chef-proprietor of Edinburgh's most feted classical restaurant. "That's the inspiration. Food is essentially nostalgic. It's only now, at my age, that I realise that I often love something because it's from my childhood."
The salty-sweet tang of the fish brings a wash of sandy, sun-scratched memories: lugging home plastic buckets of mini-monsters found in the rocks and surf, determined to cook them for tea. And with it comes the pleasant thought that this time you don't have to shell the shrimps or winkle out the winkles yourself. The surprise is the fragility of the textures: the spring of the cockles, the crunch of samphire, a melting slice of scallop. When I was a child beachcomber, we boiled everything to rubber.
For Tom Kitchin this dish is a patriotic tract. It comes with a little scroll-map of Scotland, showing where each seaweed and creature lived. These change with the seasons. But the gorgeous, fruity consommé—the tide—is always made from the little green shore-crabs that local creel-fishermen discard. "I'm fanatical about these things. So many riches. People say—East Lothian? All we've got is beets! They could not be more wrong." ~ Alex Renton