Lee Westcott, Tom Aikens Restaurant

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  At 26-years old Tom Aikens became the youngest British chef to win two Michelin stars. At the same age his protégé, Lee Westcott, has the formidable responsibility of running the kitchen at Tom Aikens Restaurant in Chelsea to Tom’s uncompromising standards. The Staff Canteen met up with him to find how he is coping and what he has learned.  How did you originally find yourself at Tom Aikens Restaurant? I originally came here on a stage for a day in mid 2009, with a keen interest in Tom’s style of food. I was still at Galvin’s at the time, so wasn’t actively looking for a new role. Tom then approached me and asked if I was looking for a new challenge, I’d been at Galvin’s year and a half; so it seemed like a good time to move on. And how quickly did you progress to head chef? I’d been offered the position of head chef just before the restaurant closed for a refurbishment in June 2011. This was a fantastic opportunity, one that was challenging, but one I felt I was ready for. The restaurant re-opened in January 2012 following the move towards a more informal style of fine dining and interior refurbishment. During this period Tom and I focused on the development of the new dishes that reflected this change but also Tom’s creativity and attention to detail. And how do you think you’ve developed as a person, as a chef, as a manager; all the things you need to be a as a head chef since you’ve been at Tom Aikens Restaurant? A hell of a lot. I was thrown in at the deep end, but I learned a lot in a short space of time which, in hindsight was the best way to progress. Before the re-launch I mainly concentrated on the cooking side of things. The position of head chef brings a whole new set of challenges, responsibilities and tasks with it.  All in which are very important to learn. Creatively, as I mentioned above, with the re-launch Tom and I would start to write the new menus together. It was good to bounce ideas off each other, and it was encouraging to know my opinion was valued. Closing for 6 months gave us an opportunity to really focus on the new menu. This, along with some new staff members joining the team, was a great way for everyone to gel together.  Seeing the progression of the team was definitely the most gratifying aspect of becoming head chef. What’s been the biggest challenge of your career so far as head chef and how have you overcome it? I think the biggest challenge has been working with Tom and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Tom’s a very creative and passionate person and it’s learning to understand and keep up with him. Has having such a high profile job allowed you to meet some of the chefs you most admire in the industry? Yes, it has. I’ve been very lucky. I did a month stage at Noma, which enabled me to meet René, which of course was a fantastic opportunity.  I also spent a week with Nuno Mendes at Viajante. We recently did a ‘Chef’s lunch’ not so long ago with the likes of Marcus Wareing, Pierre Koffman and  Tom kerridge dining with us. A humbling experience to say the least. And what advice have you been given by these great chefs, Tom included? Always be honest is a great piece of advice given to me. Everyone makes mistakes and if you make a mistake just be upfront about it; don’t try and hide it. That’s how you learn. I’ve also learnt the importance of building up good relationships with suppliers and to visit them as much as possible. It’s also important to speak to them directly as it's a great way to understand which products are at their best and to keep track of prices on a day to day basis. You’re based in London of course. Do you get much chance to eat out in all the great places around you and if so which ones are you particularly excited about? Viajante, Pollen street, Roganic and The Ledbury to name a few are all doing some amazing things at the moment. It amazes me how food at this standard is produced in such small tight spaces like the kitchens of Roganic and Ledbury. In terms of the future, you’re going to New York soon; is that right? I’m going over to New York for a little break and to spend some time at Per Se with Thomas Keller. I’m very excited to see what’s going on over there. Watch this space? And what about the more long-term future? I’d love to run my own restaurant, be my own boss and make all the decisions. I’d love to have my own brigade under me and be able to show them all the things I’ve learned over the years, which I do at Tom’s anyway but when it’s your own thing it’s very different. I like to teach people, that’s a big thing for me. I think I was quite lucky when I was younger because people always took the time out to show me what to do so I’ve always tried to do that for my team as well. It’s all about giving something back.   Photography Credits: - www.tomaikens.co.uk and David Griffen
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2013

Lee Westcott, Tom Aikens Restaurant