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Tom Kitchin: As more complaints are levelled against top chef, what are the allegations and what has he said in response?

Tom Kitchin.
Tom Kitchin.

Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin and his business are under the microscope in the wake of allegations of physical abuse and harassment.

The Kitchin Group suspended two senior members of staff following claims made in The Times, The Guardian and on the Hospitalitybulls*** Instagram account.

Former chef James Dunn revealed he had therapy after seven months working for the firm.

He was one of two staff members who said they were deliberately burnt by a senior colleague.

The 28-year-old told The Times: “My psychologist said I had symptoms of PTSD.

“After half a month of working there I had lost so much weight my mum said she thought I had a digestive disease. I cannot work in kitchens again.”

In recent days, several chefs who claim to have worked for The Kitchin Group, have come forward with more allegations against the celebrity chef.

The Kitchin Group has been contacted for comment.

What are the allegations against Tom Kitchin and The Kitchin Group?

Kitchin, 44, has been accused of manhandling his staff and presiding over an environment of harassment.

Two former members of staff claim to have seen the Edinburgh-born chef – who became Scotland’s youngest Michelin star winner in 2006 – punch and drag chefs by their collars at The Kitchin restaurant in Leith.

Tom Kitchin.

Twelve ex-employees also claim they experienced sexual harassment at The Kitchin Group restaurants, as well as allegedly being denied food, water or toilet breaks during shifts which sometimes lasted 18 hours.

Kitchin – who also owns Edinburgh’s Scran and Scallie and East Lothian’s The Bonnie Badger – is also feeling the heat over staff tips.

It’s alleged he and his wife Michaela Kitchin pocketed thousands in gratuities (reportedly up to £700 a month for five years) earned by front-of-house employees.

Since the story broke earlier in the month, more chefs have come forward with accusations against Tom Kitchin, including pinning one employee against a wall in 2010 for not smoothing the top of a tub of mascarpone.

Another has claimed that in 2009 a chef who got burned badly during a service was not allowed to seek medicial attention until that service had finished for the evening.

What have Tom Kitchin and The Kitchin Group said about the allegations?

The Kitchin Group has suspended two members of staff following the abuse and harassment claims.

They have also hired an independent firm to carry out an investigation into the allegations and set up an email address for victims and whistleblowers.

Kitchin – who studied at Perth College before training at Gleneagles Hotel – said: “Top kitchens the world over can be high-pressure, frenetic and challenging environments where emotions often run high.

“However, the exacting standards of our food and service must be matched by the standards of behaviour in our kitchens and wider operations.

Where we have fallen short, we will address it and remedy it.

“In the last few years, the feedback from our team members underlines the significant strides we’ve taken to improve what had often been a traditional culture in our kitchens, but we have more to do.

“Where we have fallen short, we will address it and remedy it. That will be our clear priority in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Kitchin Group managing director Peter Southcott, added: “Following allegations of unacceptable behaviour, two senior members of staff have been suspended while these claims are fully and independently investigated.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever action may be necessary.”

The celebrity chef at Perth Show in 2016.

A spokesman for The Kitchin Group told The Times the allocation of tips had reflected directors’ “broader responsibilities” until a restructure of the firm’s operations last year.

They added: “[Since then], as key members of the teams working daily in each individual location, the relevant directors will, of course, be allocated a share of credit card tips alongside their colleagues.

“In keeping with this policy, Tom and Michaela do not receive an allocation of tips from the Scran & Scallie, nor from the Bonnie Badger.

“Distribution of tips is done through payroll and all appropriate taxes and national insurance are paid… directors did not receive a share of cash tips.”

They also said: “A great deal has changed in kitchens over the past decade and we are committed to continuing that progress.”

Following the recent allegations, Tom added in a statement to The Times that he “makes no apology” for the standards he sets in his kitchen.

He said: “I have a hard-earned and well-merited reputation for demanding very high standards and also for being firm but fair. That’s why hundreds of ambitious chefs from all over the world have sought to work as part of our team.

“People understand that pressurised, often frenetic and highly charged kitchen environments aren’t for everyone.

“We have never pretended that we are perfect and have already made clear that a fully independent, external HR consultancy will investigate any genuine complaints and . . . will not hesitate to take appropriate action.

“We could never have built a successful business like ours without the loyalty and commitment of literally thousands of hard-working colleagues, but that’s a two-way street and I make no apology for enforcing extremely high standards.”

How has the industry reacted to the allegations around Tom Kitchin and The Kitchin Group?

Chef’s union Unichef has started a petition titled ‘The rescinding of Stars and Rosettes awarded to Restaurants who abuse their staff’.

They said: “The recent allegations of abuse at the restaurant of Michelin starred chef Tom Kitchin have highlighted the serious issues often suffered in Britain’s hotels, pubs, and restaurants, many of them well-known and famous.

“This appalling behaviour of systemic abuse, glorified by some so-called ‘celebrity chefs’ and many others in the profession is vile and degrading and has no place in a modern working environment.

“Some of these establishments are world famous and their chef’s millionaires many times over but sit comfortably knowing that their Michelin status will project their brand and their image.

“They are fully and legally responsible for abusive behaviour in their premises, no matter how many stars or rosettes they have.”

The saddest part is…are we surprised?

They added: “People within hospitality are well aware of all the issues but are reluctant to criticise.

“But now we believe that all sponsorship and accolades awarded in a brand’s name should be rescinded upon proven evidence of abuse and that companies like Michelin and the AA should ‘call out’ abuse in their name.”

TikTok star Poppy O’Toole spoke candidly about her own experiences in the restaurant industry on Instagram.

She said: “The saddest part in reading about the recent revelations about toxicity, aggression and abuse in the restaurant industry is that my first thought is literally… are we surprised?

“Everyone in the industry is aware of what’s going on.”

She added: “Let’s continue to speak up about our experiences. Keep talking and keep talking loudly.

“It’s the only way to get change in the industry.

“Food is love. Let’s call out the toxic people who make it about their ego.”

Award-winning chef Asma Khan – who owns London’s Darjeeling Express restaurant – took aim at Kitchin on Twitter.

She said: “A question for @MichelinGuideUK – do you have a code of conduct for a restaurant/chef you award a star to?

“This chef was awarded a star by you – is this the standard of leadership and decency you stand for?”

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