Tom Aikens, Tom Aikens Restaurant, London

The  Staff Canteen
Known for being the youngest chef ever to achieve two Michelin stars while working as head chef of Pied à Terre, Tom Aikens doesn’t struggle to lure in the customers at his many self-titled restaurants. The renowned chef currently has Tom Aiken’s Restaurant (awarded one Michelin star), Tom’s Kitchen and at Somerset House, a second Tom’s Kitchen branch, Tom’s Deli and Tom’s Terrace. The eponymous restaurants all demonstrate Tom’s passion for using seasonal British produce on his menus, having developed his skills at the Norwich City College Hotel School before working in numerous Michelin-recognised restaurants. At La Tante Claire, he worked in the kitchen with Pierre Koffman and during his tenure, the restaurant was awarded a third Michelin star. The hot-tempered chef has had a turbulent career but seems to have vigorously bounced back after every setback. The flagship restaurant of the Aiken empire, the Michelin-starred Tom Aiken’s Restaurant, has recently undergone a refit but returns to deliver much the same quality of food and service that can be expected of Tom, who has been cooking since he was 16.

In association with Charvet

Photography by kind permission of David Griffin Tom great to come and see the new look Tom Aikens. Talk us through that please. We did the refurb between June and  December last year, and we had a soft opening in December and as you can see we've completely changed the look of the restaurant from a very formal white tablecloths, carpets, silverware and we've gone for a much more informal relaxed feel. Do you think this is the way food’s going Tom? We've seen Jason (Atherton) do Pollen Street, sort of very informal. You've really sort of deformalised here. I think so I still feel that there is a small percentage of people who would want the real fine dining experience. There is still a big market out there but I think in terms of people just wanting a more relaxed, informal style of restaurant, still with obviously great food, I just think that's the way it’s going to go more and more because I think if you look at the people that were going for the fine dining restaurants I would say there were a lot of city bankers and a lot foodies, yes of course, but I think the kind of person that was going to the fine dining restaurants before obviously there's been a market shift and they’re looking for more generalisation of a restaurant just being more fun and being more informal, being more relaxed. One thing I noticed today is being Tom Aikens for the last four years has been a rollercoaster of a ride and I notice on your laptop downstairs your daughter, so if it’s all right with you - how much has having a family changed you or has it changed you and if so what’s it done? I would say having a little one, having Violette, is amazing, that's for sure, I highly recommend it to anyone and yeah… Although not in work time? Not in work time no. No I think it definitely changes your whole outlook on things and… Because before that you were going at a million miles an hour everything you did weren't you? I still am to a degree but I think in terms of now what is of real importance in  life are to a degree secondary to her. Before generally on a weekend, I would still be working, I would still be on the laptop, I'd be doing recipes, I'd be doing emails and I'd be doing whatever, whereas now at the weekends I don’t do anything like that, I don’t open the computer at all, I'm with Violette. Was that difficult for you to move away from that relentless kitchen routine? I'd say a little bit but it’s just such a joy seeing this little thing grow in front of your eyes, every week there's a different change and she's at that stage now where she's 9 months old… So she’ll be picking broad beans soon then? Yeah exactly, there's a lot of interaction, she's laughing, she's smiling, she's calling out obviously and when this goes on the site she's going be walking and running around. So it’s just great to see the development of the baby and she's definitely got a lot of my traits, I mean she's super, super hyper and she's a little bit loopy as well and has a very cheeky laugh. So as I say it’s amazing to have something that is a part of you. Fantastic. We spent some time in your roof garden today, do you think we're seeing a move now from farm to plate? Do you think that's become a new fashion, a new trend for want of a better description? You've seen obviously what we grow, and that all came from where I grew up and when I lived in Norfolk with my parents, we actually had our own part of an allotment in our garden and so we were allowed to grow whatever we wanted at an early age. So it taught me about seasonality and what grew when. I've always been very keen on growing my own stuff and I think it’s great for chefs as well to actually go to the garden and pick everything fresh, to know it’s just there and we take it and it’s eaten. Nothing could be more simple than that and it really gives an insight into the seasons of the produce and really the respect and care because I make them bloody know that it’s me that's looking after it, it’s me that's there at 6, 6:30 in the morning, I do an hour there before I come into the kitchen. So I had a few of the chefs come along and taking the tops off plants, I just said, “If you were to come along and chop someone’s head off do you think they'd die? Well it’s the same as a plant,” so there's been a few occasions where I've just had to bite my tongue and explain we don’t cut the heads off plants because they die. Tom Aikens the celebrity how do you balance being a marketing figure, being a PR machine with actually spending time in the kitchen? I mean obviously it’s very important to be on TV, raise the profile, how do you strike a time balance? I think a working chef is very different from 20 years ago, a head chef back then was just really being in charge of his kitchen. He ran his kitchen, he did his menu and that was it and it was quite interesting when Ferran was at the Mad Food Festival I went to and he was obviously making a lot of these points a chef in terms of their role and today’s society and them as a figure and the fact that a chef is not really a chef any more, the chef does, obviously the fundamentals, which is chopping and cooking and running his kitchen but out of that now there's a whole new arena that they’re looking after, they’re looking after marketing, they’re looking after business, the social media, there's film, there's TV and everything now that comes into it. It’s not just you being in your kitchen stuck in a hole, people want to be a part of it and people want to hear what you’re doing, they want to see how you run your kitchen, they’re interested in it all… But you've got about 10,000 followers on Twitter haven't you? Nearly 20. Have you really wow! Yes I don't know why. I think it’s amazing that people can, if they choose, jump into your life through social media, through Facebook, through Instagram, through Twitter, and I love doing that because it really gives a feel of what you’re up to as a person, what you’re up to as a chef, how you run your kitchen, what you’re doing and it’s information that is very clean and simple to give to people but I think they appreciate it also. They appreciate it because it comes directly from you as well. Yeah exactly and I'm very much of using say Instagram because it’s a picture and the picture can relate to a story or to a dish or to an ingredient I'm going to use. So I always use that and I just think it’s a great way to connect to people. Last question talk us through the dish you’re going to cook for us today? So the dish we're going to cook today is very much a sort of Spring/Summer dish, it’s ricotta, home-made ricotta with honey jelly, toasted pine nuts and a green olive juice, so it’s a very, very summery dish, nice composure of ingredients with the ricotta with the honey and the pine nuts and the olive and it goes very well together and then we serve that with a little bit of fresh herbs and salad leaves from the garden and it’s just presented we make a parmesan snow and then also a pine nut ice cream. Tom Aikens, as ever it’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you so much for your time. Thank you.
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st October 2012

Tom Aikens, Tom Aikens Restaurant, London