1970: What a good vintage. I love this picture of me and my twin brother Robert waiting for some service!
For as long as I can remember – probably from the age of 8 or so – my twin brother Robert and I were always helping our mother in the kitchen. We did a lot of home baking together. At the beginning it was mainly sweet things like cookies, cakes, jams and tarts which, fair play to my mother, was a great way to get us interested. My mother would use our help when weighing and measuring and we’d always be on hand to lick out the sticky raw cake mix that was left in the bottom of the bowl.
I vividly remember her making milk bread for us all on the weekends, the smell was so incredible I thought it was a dream! Back then, cooking was the ideal distraction to stop us causing any trouble or mischief, as my brother and I were commonly known as the terrible twins. Even at this very early stage in our lives, we both knew these times spent with our mother in the kitchen would drive us to become chefs.
Growing up in Norfolk we had a large back garden where our mother grew all our own fruit and vegetables. And so, from an early age I gained a good understanding of seasonality – that not everything grows all year round – and the importance of the weather and seasons.
We grew lots of soft fruits such as strawberries, gooseberries and blackberries which were mainly turned into jams. Saying that, most of the time Rob and I secretly picked and ate them before our mother noticed. These were treasured times. My mother always kept a well-stocked pantry filled with some lovely aged marmalades as well as all the jams. I remember watching the jams bubbling away on the stove with me and my brother taking it in turns to stir the big pot of boiling sugar and fruit. I still feel a great sense of contentment from making a simple thing like marmalade from scratch.
Meal times were spent toing and froing from the garden, where we loved to dig for fresh vegetables, and take them back to the kitchen to be prepared for a family meal. Seeing things grow and come to life was so much fun for us. Our mother could see that we enjoyed the garden, so she let Robert and I have a small patch in the vegetable garden so we could grow our own things. We loved trying to grow all sorts of weird and wonderful vegetables from different coloured carrots to large squashes and yellow courgettes. Few things tasted better to me than eating a new crop of baby potatoes with a little fresh mint all from our own garden; we were so lucky! Understanding these simple tastes and having those wonderful delicacies was the start of my footsteps into the kitchen.
My father and grandfather were both in the wine business; in the late 70’s and early 80’s my grandfather ran the wine side of Colman’s of Norwich (more famed for their mustard, but great wine merchants too!) In the early 80’s that closed down and my father started a wine shop. It was an exciting time, for as the business grew he established a company to import wine, which not only favoured French wines but imported the start of the New World wines too.
He was very successful and I would say a true pioneer of his time, with dabbling in New World wine ahead of the game giving him an edge over many suppliers. I was incredibly lucky from the age of 12 to spend summer holidays in France, having so much fun with my father on our food and travel adventures.
For many years we went very happily to this one place in the Auvergne, staying in a gite that was owned by this lovely old couple called the Masias.
Mr Masias was a keen gardener and was so proud of his very impressive vegetable patch. I tried to tell him that I too was a keen gardener (in my very broken French) and loved to visit his vegetable garden. I think he understood as whenever I saw him he would hand me something to eat fresh out of the soil: like a carrot that he brushed clean on his overalls, or some fresh peas from the pod. The other reason for visiting his vegetable garden was to dig for worms for fishing bait, as he had monsters in the soil, another sign that he had a happy garden.
My father decided to buy a barn in a very small hamlet in the Auvergne, which we then went to every year. The barn was originally built in 1800’s and had been inhabited mainly by cattle and chickens for 80 odd years before we arrived. It was an amazing spot, on the top of the hill overlooking a stunning lake – Lac de Chateau de Val. On the land we had two huge walnut trees, and a damson tree. Then in the early stages of summer, the garden was littered with fields of wild strawberries, which we duly collected and ate. This was the first time that I had eaten wild strawberries, and was even more special as they were from our garden, warm from the summer sun.
Over the next two years my family converted the barn into a house and by the time it was finished it was pretty much perfect in every way. Our neighbours were the friendliest people on the planet, always dropping off vegetables and local produce. We would visit the farmer on the hill – Monsieur Roucheon – who had dairy cattle to get fresh cow’s milk encased in cream in the morning. The warm milk on my cornflakes tasted rather sublime.
Our other neighbours – The Brojie family – regularly brought us fresh vegetables. They tasted fantastic and you could clearly see the pride they all felt. Surprise baskets of green beans, tomatoes, courgettes, leek and lettuces, would arrive on our door step just out of the blue for us all to enjoy. The amazing produce, my mother’s apricot tarts, home cooked meals and the many picnics we enjoyed all fuelled my interest in France and the world of French cuisine.
We had many outings out to local restaurants and food shops, of which compared to our local Sainsbury’s were head and shoulders above what I had seen before. Experiencing all these new foods was almost a magical experience. I remember going into the local Carrefour where the fish and meat counters just ran on forever; the abundance of fresh produce which was so seasonal; and the explosive taste of the strawberries and peaches was heavenly.
Going to the local butcher or traiteur was so much fun; it consumed all my senses. From pungent salty smell of the fresh local hams hanging above my heard, to the precise nature the butcher arranged his fresh meat counter you could feel his sense of pride. Rows of free range chickens, cuts of baby lamb, joints of veal and whole rabbits, along with a great selection of charcuterie and salami. Everywhere you turned I saw something new and exciting, something that I had not seen before.
My eyes weren’t just opened to the food, but to the wine as well. There were some days when my father was allowed to bring us along to visit his wine suppliers. Whilst he was discussing his business, Robert and I would end up working with the suppliers in the vineyards picking grapes, sweeping out the cellars and stacking bottles of wine.
One trip will always stand out, the time when my father accidentally booked us into a Michelin Star restaurant/Hotel. He had heard of this place by word of mouth but never looked at a guide or anything and, don’t forget, we were still a few years away from the internet then, so he hadn’t known what to expect. He only realised the magnitude of what he had booked when we arrived at the hotel to find our car surrounded by two guys wearing white gloves in white jackets and bow ties. I seem to remember the look on his face when they started opening the car doors and lugging out our bags to the hotel.
But that evening I had the most amazing meal, one that I will truly never forget. Ask any chef and I think they will have a similar story, the moment where you just connect. My brother and I were still at this point a little fussy and just wanted simple, good tasting food. But this experience opened our eyes to the era of nouvelle cuisine, tiny little portions delicately put together with a strong attention to detail. The tastes and flavours I remember were so precise and all utterly delicious. I had the most beautiful simple tomato salad with a stunning fragrant spiced olive oil, basil, finely diced shallots, course sea salt, black pepper and chives; I remember as if it was yesterday. I was only 12 or 13 years old and very lucky to be there, eating that sublime food. It was all so harmonious and effortless and I was mesmerised by the simplistic yet beautiful presentation.
The main course was a tiny rolled fillet steak that had been larded with beef fat- perfection – and served with the best beef dripping chips ever. I was fixated on watching the waiters lifting endless cloche after cloche for my parents with course after course of frogs legs, snails, foie gras, ris de veau (all of which I of course thought was totally weird at the time) and couldn’t wait to see what was going to come next. Then the puddings arrived, a simple whole poached peach that had been poached with so much vanilla and lemon verbena. A fresh raspberry coulis and a big ball of vanilla ice-cream, that was just out of this world. My God, I was now in seventh heaven. This was the first time that I had eaten real vanilla ice cream, can you imagine the taste explosion, I was spellbound and, as I said, I’ll never forget it.
At the age of 13 I seriously thought about becoming a chef. I wasn’t a great student at school and I knew that I didn’t want to be in an office, stuck behind a desk. My teachers were never impressed with my work ethic and my lack of attention in class was reflected in my exam results. I dreaded parents’ evening and the inevitable remarks: ‘you could do so much better…you must improve and pay attention…your son will not achieve much at all if he carries on like this’. You know, the usual encouraging words.
Luckily for me one of the best catering colleges in the UK – Norwich – was my local. So randomly out of the blue I called them to see what qualifications I needed to get in. I was told there was just an interview and basic entrance exam which was of course music to my ears.
So from that moment on, my time at school was even less crucial, so I left with very few qualifications much to the annoyance of my parents. I reassured them that I knew exactly what I wanted to do (cook!) and everything was going to be okay. I felt my parents had visions of me and my brother flipping burgers in McDonald’s but after I gave them the comfort that my sights were set slightly higher than this they understood my strong belief that this was what I was meant to do. So, in 1986 my brother and I joined the catering college in Norwich.
I had one run-in with a teacher who commented that I was only at the college because I was a twin. Quite simply, apparently I had had a bad interview whereas Rob did not and that luckily for me the powers that be didn’t want to split us up. This did not amuse me, but instead really made me really think about the future and that’s when I told myself that I will make my name by the age of 26. 26 resonated with me as it gave me 10 years to map out where I wanted to work and how I was going to get there. I quickly learnt that I needed a plan of action and to stick to it.
Pierre Koffmann, The Roux Brothers, Nico Ladenis, and the beginnings of Marco Pierre White and they all came with a 2-3 year waiting list to get into the kitchen. In those days, you really appreciated your place in these top restaurants because you realised you were amongst a select few that had been chosen to work there. If you were lucky enough to land a job you were grabbed the chance to prove your worth regardless of the hours, the pay and to an extent how you were treated.
After months of hearing nothing back, I decided to change tact. And contacted the same restaurants but this time offering to work for the first 6 months for nothing with the hope of securing a job after I’d proved my worth. Yes, that was a real sacrifice, but I was desperate to work for the best, and had my own goals and aspirations and so would do anything to get there.
Luck was on my side and I landed my first job in London working with David Cavalier at Cavaliers, Battersea. Only a select few were given this opportunity and I wasn’t going to waste it. I had been given a chance to learn and prove my worth, and so with no question of pay or hours I got my head down and was so grateful to be there.
We all start somewhere and I joined at the bottom of the ladder in David’s kitchen, on a six-month unpaid placement on the vegetable section. The 18-hour days were intense, but the excitement kept me going and led to (thankfully!) a fulltime, paid job as part of his team, David could see that I was passionate and very dedicated to the cause.
The brigade was a hardnosed bunch who taught me a lot. One in particular, Denny a good chef – often fuelled by 20+ Nescafé coffees and a pack of Marlboro’s a day – took the time, despite his broken English, to teach me the best he could.
Being honest, I did find it very hard and David was a chef with a fuse as short as his temper (most likely where I got it from in my informative years…) It was an extremely exciting kitchen to work in, and despite everything being either second hand or broken it made it just added to the excitement. The kitchen was cramped and small, with a lot of time spent running to the dry store in the basement. But I loved it down there, the produce was some of the best that I had ever seen, my eyes were out on stalks half the time.
It’s quite funny looking back at it; if we did 14 covers for lunch then we were completely in the shit. At first I couldn’t understand why 14 covers at lunch would throw us, when we would happily cope with 20-30 in the evenings. The answer laid with the kitchen, a combination of the brigade and the equipment. But the food that was produced was amazing, because David’s ethos of ‘nothing but the best will do’ was followed to the T.
After my 6-months I was given a paid commis role, but this certainly wasn’t any easier. At the time my twin brother was working for the Roux brothers in private catering for Kleinwort Benson while he waited for a place at Le Gavroche. His hours were more sociable and while we were sharing a flat he would be out partying and I would be getting home in the early hours completely shattered. So, at the age of 20, I was feeling quite envious of his social life and along with the kitchen environment being so tough, I had a bad service one night and got the bollocking of my life and I reacted by not going back to work.
4 days later, David’s wife Sue knocked at my door and said that David wanted to see me. This conversation turned out to be an inspirational pep talk – he told me he saw a real talent in me; that I was dedicated, passionate and hard working. What stuck with me was his advice that you will have to take some shit and work your ass off, but it will all eventually pay off. So, I went back and stayed in his kitchen for the next year, got my head down and he was right, it all paid off.
After that I asked David if he could speak with Pierre Koffmann to see if he could get me a job at La Tante Claire, which amazingly he did.
I remember going for the interview at La Tante Claire and being so anxious. Seeing the larger than-life-man was an extremely nerve-racking moment. But thank god, the interview was very short; I was given a starting date and that was that.
Pierre Koffmann is an exceptional man and I adored working for him. It was so exhilarating and there was this buzz of excitement in his kitchen that I had never felt before. He was very much a no-nonsense kind of man; you were told what to do and got on with it… quietly. In fact, I don’t think I shared a single word with anyone in the kitchen for the first three months! Even Laurent, the guy on the larder section with me hardly spoke to me. There was just an unspoken understanding that he would do his job and I would do mine.
The majority of the kitchen were French and they made it pretty clear that they disliked the English chefs working on their turf. Calling us Les Rosbif and letting me know they felt we couldn’t cook. The team that was in the Kitchen at that time was exceptional – Eric Chavot, Tom Kitchin and Helena Puolakka to name but a few. After three months, I was promoted from the larder to the fish section, and grabbed the opportunity where I was working on my own, to really prove myself.
I was now 21 and hadn’t touched a piece of fish since I was at college, so I literally had six weeks of another French chef begrudgingly showing me the ropes. I had the feeling he would enjoy seeing me struggle. I had a chat with Pierre, saying “Chef, I’m a little concerned because I haven’t done any fish prep for at least 4 years”. But he reassured me that all would be fine, and as it happened I learnt very quickly.
Eventually my speed built up and I could prep a wild salmon from start to finish in 5 mins, but when you messed up you of course paid the price. I was also responsible for preparing 3-4 boxes of cuttlefish a day, having the very messy job of removing the ink sacks to be used in a sauce for one of Pierre’s signatures dishes; roast scallops with black ink sauce, red pepper and garlic cream. I then had to produce a staff meal from all the cuttlefish meat – normally a curry – which tasted fowl. But it was all great fun and Pierre made it enjoyable by buying in large quantities of scallops and fish to prepare. He would come and help prep the fish with me, turning it into a race which quickly built up my confidence and speed. His temperament varied from laughing and joking one minute to giving you a huge amount of grief the next, so I had to learn to read him very well.
Another moment that sticks in my mind is when I was very late one day, because I had overslept. I was cycling as fast as I could to the restaurant when he over took me in his van on the way back from the market. He smiled and waved as he passed me and, much to my surprise, had a coffee and croissant waiting for me. Much to the annoyance of all the other chefs, I was left to enjoy this whilst they were tasked with unloading the van. I was part of the team when La Tante Claire won its third Michelin star – a very proud moment for all of us which I’ll never forget.
The decision to leave La Tante Claire wasn’t an easy one. It was a special place to me and twenty years on, I still have my recipe folder which I look back through with great fondness and nostalgia. But, I was determined to move on again, so after 14 months I called it a day. I loved going back when chef left La Tante Claire. Although it was a sad occasion, I enjoyed sharing a few bites to eat with him, drinking champagne and chatting about the years gone by. I will never forget my time with him.
The next restaurant I went to was The Capital with Philip Britten. I learnt a lot from Philip during my nine months there but had already organised my next job at Pied à Terre so moving on quite quickly.
I joined Pied à Terre to work with Richard Neat. He was an extremely imaginative and creative chef, full of ideas and sometimes a little madness too. I still remember the banging sound of Richard chopping chicken bones for the jus, which happened first thing, every day without failure, as I waited to be let in.
The team was small, with only four/five of us in the kitchen, cooking for a small amount of covers. The food was very creative, but the kitchen was tired. It needed a lot of repairs which created a challenging atmosphere.
Pied à Terre was well known for being one of the hardest kitchens to work in in London and the turnover of staff was high. There was hardly ever a ‘hello, good morning’ as Richard continued chopping his chicken wings but little did I known that Pied à Terre would become such an important place for me. And despite the hardness of the place, I learnt an awful lot from Richard and am thankful to him for helping me with the next step of my journey, getting me a place at Joël Robuchon, Paris.
In 1994, I left London and headed to France. My time working for Joël Robuchon was phenomenal; the chef was and is a genius. I joined at the age of 24 as Chef de Partie on the meat section, in arguably the best restaurant in the world; it was a dream come true. The team was 60 strong – 30 Chefs and 30 Front of House – for a 65 cover restaurant. This seemed like madness, such a huge change from the small team at Pied à Terre. I have to say compared to some of the French chefs I’d worked with before the guys in Robuchon’s kitchen were so friendly and welcoming. My nickname was L’anglais, yes very drab but it was fine with me.
Each section had between 2 and 6 chefs and in service the only voice you’d hear was Robuchon’s as he read out the orders. No-one else was allowed to talk. Once the order was called out you had one chance and one chance only to concentrate and get it right. To help, we’d try to write down everything he said (table number, order, how the meat was to be cooked) on a tiny scrap of tin foil stuck to the wall. In the service you could not ask, look or speak to Robuchon so you had to concentrate like anything. There were no second chances here.
I lived near the Gare du Nord which was a good 45 minutes from work, so my alarm went off at 4:40am every morning. I would get up and be at the Trocadero near Avenue Poincare by 5.30am, time for a quick triple espresso and a croissant then into the kitchen by 5.50am. You would work from 6.00am to 1am, with a quick break at 4pm to grab a vanilla ice cream from the Häagen-Dazs stall. Then evening service would start, by the time we cleaned down and put everything away, I would leave at 1am and be in bed by 1.45-2am. By Wednesday you were out of it, having 3 hours sleep a night was tough. No amount of Neurofen could take away the fatigue headaches that started by Thursday.
Of course there were days when I thought it was all too much, but what surprised me was the comradery in this kitchen, despite the silence we all worked as one. If you were in trouble everyone came to help and I loved being part of that team.
The produce there was the best I’d ever seen; truffles, cepes, wild strawberries, fresh almonds, peaches were all fresh every day, the food quality was just so inspirational, the Perigord truffles where out if this world and the smell was just amazing.
There was a particular dish that I shall never forget and this was the poulet de bresse with perigord truffles, we pan fried thick slices of truffles which where almost 0.4m thick in butter then they were de-glazed with Madeira then a little white chicken stock and cream, the chicken had sliced truffles under the skin of the breast and legs, this was then poached in a truffle stock. Then to finish it off, we did these truffle macaroni which where roasted in a little butter and coated in chopped truffles, coated in cream and Parmesan, this dish was heaven, the smells, the tastes were utterly sublime.
I have so many fond memories of Paris, not just the work but all the cafés, markets, museums and gardens and the many friends that I left behind.
I stayed in France for another year, but this time moved to Reims to join Gerard Boyer at his awesome 3 Michelin star restaurant, Les Crayères. It was like chalk and cheese compared to Robuchon.
Here we worked in two teams, one in the morning and one the evening, working approx. 12 hrs a day all in all – heaven. This created a much more relaxed environment compared to where I had come from and I thought I could get very used to this.
I learnt so much not only working with Boyer but from working in Champagne. Being a chef at Les Crayères was extremely educational and opened many doors to champagne houses where we were shown around the most traditional cellars there are. Santé!
I always had a thing about having to make it by the age of 26. It comes from a teacher at College who took a dislike to me – he liked to remind me that I had only been accepted to the College because of my twin brother (after my disastrous interview) and that he didn’t exactly think I had a bright future ahead of me. From that day I decided I would not only prove him wrong, but I would do it by 26. So, bizarrely, when I got that call from David (Moore) about going back to be Head Chef and Co-Owner of Pied à Terre I knew I couldn’t say no. It was a massive decision for me, but I grabbed it with both hands and it was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
After spending two weeks in the kitchen again with Richard, he and his staff left and I was on my own. Why would anyone want to come and work for me any way I had no following, no team, no reputation and immense pressure knowing most thought I would lose one star, if not both.
For the first 6 months there were three of us in the kitchen and it was mental. I had no management experience and my people skills were diabolical. I was a Chef working 20-hour days, 6 days a week and I became a little out of control. It took me a while to realise going to the market at 3am, and then starting a full day’s shift at 5:30am, wasn’t sustainable. The intense pressure that I put myself under was just crazy, I didn’t know how to delegate became a complete control freak, which did not help me or my team.
But September came around and a weight was lifted off me when the Michelin Guide was released and we retained the second star, becoming the youngest British chef to achieve this accolade. I was ecstatic with the news and after 5 years there, I knew it was time for me to move on.
Pierre Koffmann gave me a call after he knew that I had left Pied à Terre and offered me the Head Chef position at La Tante Claire at the Berkely. He had moved here from Royal Hospital Road, a place he really loved and where Gordon now resides. But I felt that he was ready for a move and onto pastures new, as was I.
It was great to be working back with Chef again and it was the same kitchen banter as before. There were some amazing chefs in this team including Chris McGowan, a great Irish chef with loads of talent and great fun to work with. Raphael Duntoye who is running the brilliant Le Petite Maison in Mayfair was also there and whilst I was on the way-out Helena Puolakka took over from me after 9 or so months.
I had almost 12 months where I worked privately for various people and one of them was Andrew Lloyd Webber. You may ask why, but the answer is I just wanted to take some time out and have a break from London kitchens. This was ideal as it was between London and his country estate. He wanted simple British cooking, nothing fancy, but great seasonal produce. I stayed here for 6 months and then moved to another household.
Anouska Hempel is the force behind Anouska Hempel Design, a hugely successful international design practice, as well as the very famous Blakes Hotels in London and Amsterdam. I worked privately for her at her own home, on her boat and at the Blakes hotel. I was only with her for a short period, for about 6 months, developing menus and training her own chefs before I went to Daylesford.
At this point in 2000 I was really wanting to try something new and a fresh challenge, so I asked around about working in the private sector. It was a completely different direction for me and I felt at that time in my life and career it was most likely the best decision I made. I was very tired and to be completely honest, needed a break.
For the next two years I worked at their house of residence and helped Lady Bamford with the opening of Daylesford Organic. Together we developed a large range of organic products for Daylesford Farm Organic Shop and Wootton Organic.
When my small team and I started there was only the shop and the creamery at Daylesford, and we began creating and testing a range of foods (from jams and pickles to soups and ready meals) that could be sold in the farm shop. Carole wanted to make a huge impact and she was as much a perfectionist as me. Because of this and her obvious passion and belief in what she wanted, we got on very well. Working with Carole Bamford, was far less pressure and for a very long time I did not have to think about anyone else apart from myself and what I was doing. Gone were my worries of a member of staff not turning up, or a late delivery for something essential for that lunchtimes service. The absence of this pressure was a very welcome relief.
Working with Carole, the family and their team really made me think about food in a completely different way. Working so closely with the producers and produce was a real eye opener for me and gave me an appreciation for the work that farmers put into giving us chefs great ingredients to cook with. I worked in the abattoir as well, so I saw the whole process of an animals’ life from start to finish.
I learnt so much about farming, animals and the importance of communicating with producers and farmers directly. This knowledge and these relationships are what inspired Tom’s Kitchen which I opened 5 years later.
Tom Aikens Restaurant opened in April 2003 in Chelsea. It was a huge step for me, my own restaurant, my own name above the doors. The pressure was really on.
The first few months were challenging and, as always with a new team in a new environment, it took time to settle in. We wanted to set off on the right foot and agreed to film a TV show called ‘Trouble at the Top’ – a documentary on the opening of the restaurant. Filming started 6 months before we opened and captured everything from construction and food development to all the nitty gritty bits and pressure points of opening a restaurant. I remember those first few years with a lot of fondness although it seems like many many moons ago.
I am really proud of all we achieved here. So many of my team are now doing great things independently which is awesome to see. And I treasure the accolades we achieved together including a Michelin Star in its first year of opening (2004), followed by ‘Rising-Two-Star’ status and 5 AA Rosettes in 2008.
In 2014, after eleven years at Elystan St we took the decision to close Tom Aikens restaurant to focus on my other projects. This was very hard for me. I have seen some great chefs come through the kitchen and for me that’s what it’s all about; sharing your learnings with others and seeing the next generation of great chefs develop. The restaurant was a huge part of my life and we had many good times, and a few tough ones as well.
This incredible annual fundraising dinner has earnt its place as one of London’s most significant events, raising over £20 million each year for some of the UK’s children’s charities. I was asked to create a fine dining menu for 2,000 guests in 2005. We served broad bean gazpacho with truffle dumplings, veal fillet with braised shin and roast asparagus and poached rhubarb vanilla crème with rhubarb tapioca. This was the start of my partnership with The Admirable Crichton.
I partnered up with London’s leading party and event organiser to deliver bespoke private dinner party menus, designing menus for clients from Graff Diamonds and Cartier to Dunhill.
I had the opportunity to work with jewellery designer, and co-founder of Carnet, Michelle Ong to create a one-off dinner event. The event was at the four seasons Hotel the Landmark hotel for 700, to celebrate The Da Vinci Code film. The menu was frogs legs with morels & chervil, lamb loin with fennel & anchovy, and mango delice with lime. I also created a second menu for a VIP lunch with a smaller intimate group of guests.
I was asked to cater for the Sotheby’s diamond event, at the Monaco Grand Prix. It was a cocktail reception aboard The R.M. Elegant in the company of HRH Prince Albert and the F1 drivers and then a seated dinner for 60 VIP customers of Sotheby’s.
The San Pellegrino Cup is a prestigious boat race held every year in Venice. Alongside the 10-mile boat race there is a cooking completion whereby, the chefs take to the tiny onboard galleys to rustle up the best meal we can before our boat crosses the finishing line.
The other chefs I was up against were Norbert Niederkofler, head chef at Restaurant St Hubertus in the Italian Dolomites and Emmanuel Stroobant from Belgium. On Norbet’s menu was the rather odd-sounding Krapfen (doughnuts) with mushrooms, prawns, and squid. Emmanuel, used tuna as his main ingredient. It seemed he had some trouble as despite having flown over special Japanese fish at great expense from his base in Singapore, he was spotted in Rialto market, brokering a deal with a fishmonger at 7:30 that morning. I was cooking with the organic lamb I brought from home, with courgette flowers, baby aubergines, artichokes, sage, basil (green and the more potent purple), shallots, lavender, and fresh borlotti beans.
So off we set and it wasn’t long before I started feeling a little queasy from the smell of frying garlic bulbs and artichokes, combined with the searing temperatures below deck. Luckily the crew stepped into help me with the veg prep.
I spent more time on deck the deck than in the galley and by the time we cross the finishing line (in third place) some four hours in, we took the world’s slowest route to the judges’ boat to give me time to plate. I had no idea what the outcome was going to be, and so 3 hours later when I heard that I had won, I didn’t believe it…that was until I had the lovely Venetian glass plate in my hands as the newly crowned winner.
My first cookbook – Tom Aikens: Cooking was published in October 2006. It offers a mixture of simple every day recipes as well as more elaborate restaurant dishes from Tom Aikens restaurant.
This book offers something for everyone from a beginner, to home cook and the more seasoned pro. With step by step recipes to cover all occasions from simple soups and seasonal salads to slow cooking dishes for the family and more elaborate dinner party ideas.
The idea for Tom’s Kitchen was based on how I grew up and what I loved about food – quite simply I wanted to create a place that showcased the enjoyment of eating with friends & family. I wanted to encompass so many precious memories of mine, from sitting at the kitchen table with my family and brothers, recreating the feeling of eating straight from the pot, with everyone sharing and casually enjoying the moment.
When I opened the first Tom’s Kitchen on Cale Street, Chelsea in 2006, which was just a few steps away from Tom Aikens Restaurant, I wanted to put into practise all that I had seen and learnt from working with Carole Bamford at Daylesford Organic. The principle of Tom’s Kitchen was an all-day Brasserie-style restaurant serving comfort food, including some great British classics. I would say (hand on heart) that I was the first chef in the UK to bring in the farm to plate culture. I wanted the suppliers to be the heroes and make a clear link from the producers to the customers. I made a real fuss of this and made sure that the staff were all well versed on where all the produce came from, which farmer supplied us with the different meats and vegetables, and how it was produced.
The ethos of Tom’s Kitchen is simple: use the very best seasonal and locally sourced wherever possible. The restaurants work with British suppliers and farmers that are as passionate about growing as the chefs are about cooking. We are committed to serving fresh, ethically sourced ingredients and go to great lengths researching the finest sustainable produce.
Seasonality and locally produced food are such important factors in the preparation of a menu. We believe in harvesting all the freshest things the changing seasons bring, using small local producers whom we know and trust. Food has to be honest and open, total dis-regard of food miles and air freighted food shows a lack of understanding and concerns for the environment, we do not use any food that’s been flown in out of season, thousands of miles away, unless its tropical fruit.
Tom’s Kitchen currently has four sites across London, one in Birmingham and one international flagship in Istanbul. The London locations include Chelsea which opened first in November 2006, followed by Somerset House in conjunction with Compass Group, Canary Wharf and St. Katharine Docks.
I joined forces with David Linley (founder and chairman of British design company LINLEY) to create a unique collection of high end kitchen accessories – the ultimate acquisition for true gastronomes and cooking enthusiasts.
The collection celebrates fine craftsmanship in the respective disciplines of the two experts: cabinet-making and cooking. Bringing together the combined skills of David and myself the pieces are both beautifully made and eminently practical from an end user’s perspective. LINLEY has ensured that the quality and craftsmanship inherent in each piece is superlative, whilst I used my experience to ensure that each piece fulfils the practical requirements of a true culinary expert.
Made from solid black walnut and stainless steel, the collection comprises the following, Reversible Bread Board / Chopping Board, Small Chopping Board, Reversible Chopping Board and Carving Board, Knife Block, Carving Knife Boxed Set in African blackwood and chrome
It was a great honour to be made the resident in-house chef for Country Life magazine. I contributed to the monthly magazine, designing some simple recipes as well as offering cooking tips and advice on anything from produce to seasonality, children friendly food to party recipes.
After the successful opening of Tom’s Kitchen Chelsea in 2006, I decided to open Tom’s Place as a more modern approach to the typical Fish and Chip shop.
To develop the concept, I’ve researched and studied everything to do with sustainable fishing. I have been to Newlyn in Cornwall to meet with many fisherman and to work out on the sea with them. I learned about the conservational aspect of fishing and the way we fish the waters.
In 2009, Pierre Koffmann came out of retirement to celebrate the inaugural London Restaurant Festival.
At Selfridges, Londoners were able to experience again the wondrous talents of Pierre Koffmann. His pop-up La Tante Claire called Restaurant on the Roof was a destination for anyone serious about food and a once in a lifetime opportunity for people to eat on the roof of Selfridges, where its customers are not usually allowed to go. Plus, we all enjoyed the reunion amongst us chefs.
I have been a very passionate supporter of Team 2012 – joining many other likeminded people trying to raise as much support as possible for the British Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. In addition to this, I was privileged and excited to have been able to carry the Olympic Torch through Kensington and Chelsea.
In October 2014, I opened my first restaurant The Pawn in Asia (Hong Kong) in partnership with the Pressroom Group, which already runs about 15 restaurants and cafés in Hong Kong.
The first time I came to Hong Kong I fell in love with the vibrancy of the city and I remember being wowed by the fast development of the food scene here. The opportunity to look after the launch of The Pawn in Wan Chai as culinary director was fantastic and I feel very honoured to be part of it.
As its name suggests it, The Pawn used to be a pawn shop back in the 1890s. It is a beautiful building and has been listed as a local heritage conservation site. It first became a restaurant in 2008, reopening in 2014 after a large refurbishment and new culinary direction.
We relaunched the venue with a bar called Botanicals on the first floor, serving beautiful cocktails and casual food. The restaurant on the second floor delivers a modern British menu with some great local twists. On the rooftop we grow some herbs, vegetables, salads and edible flowers as well as a fantastic event space.
In September 2015 I opened my first restaurant in the Middle East – Pots Pans & Boards in collaboration with my business partners. Dubai’s food scene is incredibly exciting and many great international chefs are opening restaurants here.
We found a great location on The Beach, opposite to the Jumeirah Beach Residence. It is a standalone restaurant offering a capacity of over 300 seats whereby almost all are on a beautiful outdoor terrace.
Following the success of The Pawn in Wan Chai, the Press Room Group and I were keen to bring on another new and exciting addition to the Hong Kong dining scene.
The Fat Pig was born out of my love for the meat and our interest in the provenance of the ingredients.
Soho Farmhouse is set across 100 acres of rolling countryside, just a 90-minute drive away from London. The eighth UK Soho House includes the farm’s existing 18th century buildings, a seven-bedroom farmhouse, a four-bedroom cottage and 40 wooden guest cabins that are built along the banks of three lakes.
Soho House asked me to help set it up and oversee the Farmhouse food pre and post launch. I developed menus that feature ingredients that are locally sourced or grown onsite by head gardener Anna Greenland on a one-acre smallholding. The garden is one of the best I have seen in a long time, practical and not just ornamental, the whole concept was as much farm to table as we can and this starts with the garden.
The central Farmyard building houses the Farm Deli, a Wine Cellar as well as a Pickle Room and Curing Room (where all the charcuterie is made). All the produce can be taken back to the guest cabins or is served at communal tables in the central courtyard.
There’s also the Farm shack, a wood grill and smoke cabin cooking up curry on Friday and Saturday nights, and roasts on Sunday during the day. The dog-friendly Mill Room, Soho House’s first pub, serves a selection of local beers, guest ales and ciders, plus classic pub bites.