Master ChefsA Taste of Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens courted press scandal and financial crisis early in his career. He reached head chef status at Pied à Terre at the tender age of 26, and it was there that he became the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars.

Tom Aikens courted press scandal and financial crisis early in his career. He reached head chef status at Pied à Terre at the tender age of 26, and it was there that he became the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars. But is the Paris-trained powerhouse a pussycat these days? With his focus firmly settled on fitness and family, Michelin success and a fistful of eponymous eateries certainly seem to have mellowed this once notoriously fiery-tempered chef.


You spent a lot of time in France during your childhood. What impact has this had on the style and taste of the cuisine served in your London restaurants?

We spent every school holiday in the Auvergne region after my father bought a house there, so from an early age I was surrounded by very classic, regional cooking. I then worked in France for two years from the age of 24 to 26 with Joel Robuchon in Paris at his namesake restaurant and Gerard Boyeres at Les Crayeres restaurant in Champagne. They are very different establishments – Robuchon’s was tough and the focus on produce was the best I have ever seen, the detail of the food was exceptional. Gerard was more classical, but the underlying theme at both restaurants was respect for quality produce.


What are the main differences between the English and French dining experience?

There isn’t an awful lot of difference between the two, they can both be as classical and off-the-wall as each other. At the moment we are pretty much aligned.


You recently collaborated with Qatar airways to create the ‘Culinary world menu’ for air passengers. What is your idea of the perfect in-flight meal?

I have had some shocking in-flight food experiences that’s for sure! The perfect meal is something that’s easy to digest and will make you feel comfortable for the duration of the flight, nothing too rich or creamy. It should be light and fresh but also comforting, it could be as simple as a shepherd’s pie with fresh peas.


You’ve opened Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea and at London’s Somerset House. Do you have plans for another? What locations would you consider?

We have been exploring options for a space in East London and we were thrilled that we were able to move forward with an exciting third location in Canary Wharf this summer. We also have our first international flagship opening in Istanbul in August 2013, which I’m very excited about.


At the age of 26, you had already achieved what many chefs can only dream of. What new goals have you set yourself?

There’s always more to achieve. It was a great honour for the new look and feel of Tom Aikens Restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star and five AA Rosettes following our re-opening and we will continue to work hard to maintain these standards.


You describe yourself as someone who “simply does not understand the word RELAX.” Do you give yourself any downtime?

I don’t have much time to relax, so when I do it has to be with my daughter.


Why did you choose to participate in the Stand Up for Cancer Gala with Channel 4?

I just believe that if you are in the public eye a fair amount, I think it is only fair that you use that to give something back.


Who are the inspirations behind your career?

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to work for and alongside some of the world’s best chefs. I worked with Pierre Koffman for many years at La Tante Claire in Chelsea and he was hugely inspirational, as well as Joel Robuchon in Paris, of course. I also admire chefs like Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and the Roux brothers. Not only have they revolutionised the industry with their cooking, they are also great businessmen.


Where do you see yourself in five years, both personally and professionally?

With a bigger family, that’s for sure! I would like to open some restaurants in New York with my brother and expand the Tom’s Kitchen and Deli business throughout London and further afield.

I would love to climb Everest and run a few more ultra-marathons. I’m a very active person and I constantly want to challenge and push myself further – I think it makes you feel very present. I want to look back when I am old and grey and tell my kids about what I’ve accomplished.


If you could go anywhere in the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner (without boundaries of time or travel) which three places would you go to?


I tend to start the day with a yoghurt smoothie made with fresh berries at my brasserie Tom’s Kitchen but when I visit my brother in the States, I can’t resist heading to his restaurant for a hearty brunch. His gastropub Dandelion introduces a seasonal take on traditional British fare to Philadelphia. The brioche French toast, served with vanilla crème chantilly and maple syrup is irresistible.


One of the most memorable lunches I’ve had is at Quay in Sydney. It offers a wonderful location with views of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge and is an all-encompassing foodie experience. The menu, created by Peter Gilmore, is a fantastic blend of unusual flavours and textures. I particularly love dishes such as the line caught iki jime Tasmanian squid, with squid ink custard, and pink turnips and the signature eight texture chocolate cake shouldn’t be missed!


A favourite restaurant of mine is the 3 Michelin starred El Cellar de can Roca in Girona, Spain. The restaurant, run by three brothers, features an astoundingly creative menu and a wine list with over 2,800 wines available. It is a very special experience to dine there and it’s easy to see why it has been included in the San Pellegrino’s ‘World’s 50 Best’ for seven years running.