Lifting the Lid: Rob Aitken, Ka Pao Glasgow

Opened in 2020 in Glasgow’s west end following a successful residency at the city’s SWG3 venue, Ka Pao majors in dishes inspired by the cooking of South East Asia. The Glasgow restaurant was awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide in February 2022. Parent company Scoop Restaurants, which has operated Glasgow’s Ox & Finch restaurant since 2014, opened a Ka Pao venue in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter in March 2022.
Rob Aitken

How long have you been in the industry?

Roughly 13 years now. I’d always loved cooking and food. I got a place in the City of Glasgow College and a commis chef job at Paperino’s.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Overhearing a CDP talking his fellow CDP through how to do something the other day was pretty great!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Learning how to manage myself. As you climb the ladder in kitchens it becomes more important to set an example. Staying in control and keeping yourself motivated is a hard-earned skill!

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

The atmosphere at Ka Pao is pretty fun and relaxed which I get to enjoy since we work in an open kitchen with the pass right in the centre of the space. The menu is full of bold flavours, served in a low-key funky setting with good night-out vibes. Many of the team have worked and travelled throughout South East Asia. We’re not trying to replicate any particular regional cuisine but our influences and experiences have shaped the food we cook.

Describe your team

Forces of nature. They blow me away with their skill, good nature and passion every day.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

I think the most overlooked ingredient is the unlimited, crisp, fresh tap water.

Is there any food you dislike?

Not really, but a true peeve is people approaching a cuisine without any respect for its traditions.

What’s your favourite wine?

The wines outside on a nice day with good company taste good from £5-500.

What makes a good chef?

A positive mental attitude is the key attribute in any kitchen.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

I’m lucky enough to have been with this company on and off for almost a decade now. There are some people who I would consider my closest friends now who definitely know how to make me laugh.

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

I admire anyone who can graft their heart out with a smile on their face, more often than not it’s a KP or a section chef.

How do you relax outside of work?

Having found the power of running for mental health in lockdown I doubt I’ll ever stop!

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten and where was it?

Eating in St. John this year was pretty much perfect. All things on toast and everything else being perfectly cooked and seasoned was sublime.

Who would you invite for your ideal meal and where would you go?

I’d have cheesy beans on toast with my partner at home.