Tom Aikens took an interest in the finer things in life at a young age. His father and grandfather, who were wine merchants, often travelled around France wine-tasting and brought Tom along with them. He started cooking at the age of 16 and then attended the Norwich City College Hotel School. His first job as a Commis chef was at Mirabelle in Eastbourne after which he moved onto working with a series of Michelin star chefs—learning from the best. He worked for David Cavalier at Cavalier’s, Philip Britten at The Capital Hotel and then as a Chef de Partie for Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, which garnered three Michelin stars during his time there. In 1993, Tom became Sous Chef at Richard Neat’s restaurant Pied à Terre.
Tom then took a break from England and spent a full year working with renowned chef Joël Robuchon in Paris and Gérard Boyer at Les Crayères in Reims. In 1996, Tom came back to London to be Head Chef and co-proprietor at Pied à Terre. He maintained the restaurant’s two Michelin stars, which made him, at age 26, the youngest recipient ever to receive this accolade.
In 2003, Tom Aikens fulfilled his dream of having his own restaurant and opened Tom Aikens Restaurant, which met with great success. Among many other awards, the restaurant received a Michelin star in 2004 and was rated as the 8th best restaurant in the world by the UK publication Restaurant in 2005. In 2008, the restaurant received the status of a Michelin ‘rising two star’.
Tom also opened a brasserie-style restaurant in 2005 called Tom’s Kitchen. Surrounded by rustic décor and an open kitchen, you can enjoy a tasty brunch or a dinner eating fish & chips, burgers as well as more elaborate dishes like a 7 hour braised lamb.
On top of starting two very successful restaurants, Tom also made time to write two cookbooks. His first book Tom Aikens Cooking was published in 2006. He divides it into different types of food—vegetable, meat, fish etc—and grades his recipes from quick and easy to medium and challenging for the skilled adventurer. He also published a whole book dedicated to fish recipes called Fish in 2008.
Q. What inspires you to create new dishes with seemingly strange taste combination such as your ‘marinated pigeon, poached in cinnamon and coffee’?
A. The Cinnamon and coffee taste you may think is a strange combination, but there is reasoning behind it, the cinnamon is the sweet and the coffee is the bitter, the pigeon is marinated in milk first to with draw any bloody taste from the breast, then its marinated in a paste of olive oil coffee and cinnamon and cooked in a water bath at 54c for approx 25 minutes. There are other components like mint too in this dish and the sauce is all the pigeon bones roasted with coffee and cinnamon and deglazed with Maderia to sweeten it.
Q. Which is your favourite type of food to cook and why?
A. Most people are always assuming that they think I love complicated fussy food where really I just love very simply cooked food that is quick and easy to prepare, anything from a home made burger to home made lasagne or a simple steak.
Q. In your opinion, what in your cooking has led you to become a Michelin star chef?
A. I have always been cooking in Michelin star restaurants since I left college, it’s the quality and consistency of the cooking that has led me down this route. I also think that it just focuses the mind a little more too.
Q. In general, what are some key elements that differentiate a mediocre chef from a great one?
A. Passion, ambition, drive, enthusiasm, a good manager, stubbornness and never give up attitude.
Q. What do you think about ‘deconstructivist’ cooking movements that serve foams of just about anything including meat?
A. Weird or wonderful they may work or they may not depending on the level of experience of the chef and his or her reason behind the methods they use in cooking.
Q. When you cook in your restaurants, you work with a team. How do you ensure that the quality remains at the highest level?
A. The team is the most important element to how the kitchen runs and works, I being the head chef am only one yet the kitchen is made up of approx 11 chefs. They are all just important as me in how the kitchen is operated and managed. I certainly set the how’s, whys and where’s of the kitchen but they all make the clock tick and work, with out a good team I am nothing.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges?
A. Getting back up and dusting your self off from a big fall, I say I have had a few but it’s the never give up attitude and stubbornness that has got me where I am today.
Q. Where do you see your career going from here? Any plans for a third restaurant in the future or a TV show?
A. I take every day as it comes and yes of course look to the future, lets just say as my mother always does wait and see….. With regards to TV watch this space for IRON chef UK ..
Q. What do you hope to achieve in 2010 and how do you feel Pelime might help facilitate this?
A. I feel that already 2010 is flying by at a rapid pace we are already in March almost and spring is around the corner…. I am running in the marathon des Sables in 5 weeks it’s a very tough race across the sahara desert, if you check my profile you will see what I am going to be up to and what it will take, there is also a charity link hint hint hint….. So if Pelime can help with raising more money for my chosen charity I would be very happy.Of course using Pelime as a networking sight to either connect with people in other industries or businesses that could become connected to improve each others own business or connections. Or people that are in the same field as my self of restaurants, PR, Hospitality .