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Interview with Tom Aikens

Chef Name: Tom Aikens

Age: 47

Title: Chef Patron and Restaurateur

Awards:
Youngest ever chef to get two stars in the Michelin guide at Pied à Terre in 1995 at 26.
Michelin Great Britain & Ireland 2004 – one star.
Michelin Great Britain & Ireland 2009 – rising two stars (one star since 2004).
AA Restaurant Guide 2009 – five Rosettes (since 2008 guide).
Good Food Guide 2009 – rated 8/10 (since 2004).
Zagat Restaurant Guide 2009 – 25/22/24.
Harden’s London Restaurant Guide 2009 – 3/3/3.
Academy of Food and Wine 2008 – UK Sommelier of the Year awarded to Gearoid Devaney.
Square Meal Restaurant Guide 2008-2009 – one star.
Harden’s London Restaurants Guide 2008 – 2/2/3.
Zagat Restaurant Guide 2008 – 26/22/24.
Square Meal Restaurant Guide 2007 – two stars.
AA Restaurant Guide 2007 – four Rosettes.
Harden’s London Restaurant Guide 2007 – 3/2/3.
AA Restaurant Guide 2006 – four Rosettes.
Egon Ronay’s Restaurant Guide 2006 – three stars.
Hotel & Restaurant Restaurateurs’ London Restaurant 2005.
Winner of the 2005 Torres Quiz Master Trophy – Gearoid Devaney.
Restaurant Magazine Awards 2005 ‘World’s 50 Best’ – number eight.
Decanter/Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2005.
Harpers & Moët Restaurant Awards Vintage Year 2004.
Hotel & Restaurant Restaurateurs’ Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Hotel & Restaurant Restaurateurs’ New Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Wine Spectator Best Of Award Of Excellence 2004.
Arena Chef of the Year 2004.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper Catey Award – Newcomer of the Year 2004.
Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards – Best New Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards – London Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Harpers & Moët Restaurant Awards – Best Newcomer 2004.
Harden’s Restaurant Rémy Excellence Award 2004.
Good Food Guide – London Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Craft Guild of Chefs’ New Restaurant of the Year 2004.
Tatler Restaurant Awards – Best Sommelier – Gearoid Devaney 2004.
Hotel & Restaurant Restaurateur’s New Restaurant of the Year and London Restaurant of the Year 2003.
BMW Square Meal Award – Restaurant of the Year 2003.

How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I was 16 and at Norwich City College when I got my City and Guilds 706/1 and 706/2, so I guess this is semi-professional. I was 18 when I moved to London to work.

What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
This is when I was probably at the age of eight or so – my twin brother and I were helping out in the kitchen with my mother. She would involve us in making cakes and home baking, or just weighing things out, but we were always on hand to help to lick out the occasional sticky raw cake mix that was left in the bottom of the bowl. I have a great memory of her making milk bread – the smell was so incredible. Living in Norfolk, we had a large back garden where we grew a lot of our own fruit and vegetables. As a result, from an early age I got to learn about seasonality and how to grow and cook great produce. We grew lots of soft fruits such as strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries and so on, which were mostly turned into jams, which my mother kept in a large larder full of things that we made.

Which chefs inspire you most and why?
Joël Robuchon and Pierre Koffmann. They have both been real inspirations to my cooking and certainly have influenced my style. I also admire chefs like Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and the Roux brothers.

What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
I have many, that’s for sure, but purely for sentimental reasons one is my grandfather’s old Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook and the other is my Ceserani and Kinton’s Practical Cookery from when I was at college, as it reminds me of the little boy I was all those years ago with very little knowledge or understanding of what I was just about to get into.

Which two ingredients could you not live without?
Maldon sea salt and olive oil.

What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
Probably a charred steak medium rare with béarnaise sauce and triple-cooked chips.

If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
The restaurant that I would love to visit the most would be Alinea, as Grant Achatz must be one of the world’s most creative chefs (along with a few others, of course). He stands out from most by pushing the boundaries – what is not possible, he makes possible. In the technique, the taste, the composition of flavours and ingredients, he has a gift that I have rarely seen in any other chef. He is always trying to push the boundaries of mystery and intrigue more than any other chef and he re-invents the wheel more than anyone else can. Seeing what he went through with his cancer and how he had to learn to taste again and to completely trust his head chef was just extraordinary – how he tasted his food through another chef’s taste buds. So this is definitely on the list to try.

And who would you take as your guest?
My partner Justine.

What do you look for in a good chef?
Must be a team player, passionate, understand produce, be a good listener and obviously must be talented at cooking.

What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
Be patient – don’t get too wrapped up in becoming a superstar. Quickly gain as much knowledge as you can, because once you become a head chef, learning from others stops to a degree. You are always learning but at this time you will have far more on your shoulders to think about. Have a game plan of what you want to do and where you want to go and work. I would definitely recommend that you leave the UK for at least four years to travel the world and see other cultures. What’s the end goal – to be a head chef or to run your own restaurant?

Chef Tom Aikens is the founder of Tom’s Kitchen.

Website:
Tom’s Kitchen www.tomskitchen.co.uk
The Pawn www.thepawn.com.hk
The Fat Pig www.thefatpig.hk
Pots, Pans and Boards www.potspansandboards.ae

Social Media:

Twitter: @tomaikens
Instagram: @tomaikens