A WEEK’S a long time in football. Stubbsy’s away to Rotherham. Both sides of the city will wish him a fond farewell. Especially the Jambos, who must be sick of the sight of his long, Liverpudlian face reflected in a certain piece of silverware. But this week’s column is about things that last longer than football managers.
I’m talking about communities and the men and women who build and protect them. I’m talking about The Citadel in Leith.
The same day that Hibs turned Leith Links into a sea of green – with a few seasick-green faces among them – Willy Barr, the man who runs the Citadel, was out on his wee boat on the Forth with his family, away from all the flags and fuss, reflecting on arguably the greatest thing that had ever happened to his own club in its history: Supper at The Citadel. You might be thinking “Aye, a fish supper at The Citadel”. I’m here to tell you something different.
Supper At The Citadel was a one-off night dreamed up by Willy Barr and his pal John Evans in the Starbank Inn a year ago to launch Friends Of The Citadel, a programme he’s set up to replace the 26 per cent cut in funding that’s just been forced on the famous youth and community centre. Last year, The Citadel had to stop a families project, a decision Willy says was a sore one to take and which spurred them to launch this new fund-raising initiative. “The need’s never been greater, the money’s never been less,” said Willy. “We needed to do something bold, something way out of our comfort zone to help put a longer-term source of finance in place.
It was a scary ambition, like everything Willy does. To transform The Citadel’s humble gym hall into the setting for a black tie, Michelin-star quality supper, cooked and served by Citadel teenagers under the eagle eye of Tom Kitchin. First Willy had to get Tom Kitchin to agree. “Well, I basically stalked him. I knew he sometimes came out to the back door of his restaurant so I hung about till he appeared then I pounced.”
Tom Kitchin says: “He just kept banging on the door, this random Leith bloke in a checked shirt. He wouldn’t go away.”
We needed to do something bold, something way out of our comfort zone to help put a longer-term source of finance in place.Willy Barr
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, it was just finding the time. It’s really important for me to support this community. I’m passionate about kids and youth and getting everybody to understand what good food is.”
I got let in on the secret early. Willy wanted me to meet the six kids Tom had chosen to learn how to cook like him, in his own restaurant, The Kitchin, then bring those skills back on the big night and prepare and serve Michelin-quality food in The Citadel’s kitchen. They were already experts on the gruesome aspects of killing and dressing a fresh Newhaven crab which would be the basis of our starters on the night.
“You have to drop them into boiling water while they’re still alive,” said Connor Muir. Milan Bell was contemplating a career in catering. “This is going to help me get into college.”
The day I was there, as well as the six budding chefs who would be cooking alongside The Kitchin staff, 12 more young people were being trained by the restaurant’s maitre d’, Sylvain Ranc, and Kate Murphy to help serve the food and drink. In the background was John “Yogi” Hughes, ex-Hibs legend and former manager of Inverness Caldonian Thistle, being interviewed on camera, leaping around with the kids, on an inflatable castle, making sure the place was bouncing.
With a Hibs v Rangers Cup Final in the offing, the atmosphere was electric. “What’s your prediction Yogi?” “I think Hibs’ll pick Rangers’ pocket,” he said.
Yogi’s mum founded The Citadel and he was one of the first through its doors when it opened. “I wouldn’t have had the career I had if it wasn’t for the values I learned here. It taught me to respect others and to bounce back from hard times.”
The night itself just flashed by, a feast of fun and entertainment as well as delicious Kitchin-Citadel fusion cuisine. There were photographs on the red carpet by Marc Marnie, a drinks reception to get everyone bubbling, and the Citadel Crew, cheeks flushed with their efforts, looking laundry-fresh in their black and white aprons. Back in the kitchen, the chefs were plating up the first course.
“It’ll no matter if the plates aren’t all straightened up, this is The Citadel,” said one. Milan Bell gave him a look. “You’re right this is The Citadel,” she said. “It’s got to be perfect.” Wee Casey was serving the chairman of the Port Of Leith Housing Association, a non-meat-eater. “What’s this?” he asked her. “It’s fish,” she said. “What kind of fish?” he said. “I don’t know. It’s fish. Just eat it.” You couldn’t fault the food, every one of the 60 guests got served bang on time. How many Leith teenagers have got pictures on their phones of Newhaven brown crab with hazelnut mayonnaise, apple and spring vegetables; beautiful Beef Wellington fillet steak wrapped in a crust of seasoned mushrooms and golden pastry and rhubarb Knockcraich crowdie cheesecake with strawberries and vanilla ice-cream – and all food they had made themselves?
After the auction, Tom Kitchin lined up all his staff, chefs and servers and paraded them round all the tables to thunderous applause, not to mention the odd tear of pride. Finally, young chef Conner Muir was brought up to the stage and asked how his gardening business was doing with the lawnmower he’d borrowed and tested out in his bedroom. “No bad.” “How much to cut my grass?” “Depends how big your grass is . . .”
Finally, someone asked him what his profits were. “Healthy”, he said. Which is exactly what Willy Barr will tell you if you ask him how Supper At The Citadel turned out financially.
• If you’d like to find out more about Friends Of The Citadel, go online to www.friendsofcitadel.org.uk.