Tom and his twin brother 1968


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. At the beginning it was home baking. Mainly sweet things – cookies, cakes, jams and tarts, which (fair play to my mother!) was a great way to get us interested. We’d help her with weighing, measuring things out – and of course we’d always be on hand to lick out the sticky, raw cake mix at the bottom of the bowl.

My brother and I were often called the terrible twins, so cooking was ideal for keeping us away from trouble and mischief. Even then, I think we both knew that these times with our mother in the kitchen would drive us both towards becoming chefs.



Growing up in Norfolk we had a large back garden where our mother grew all our own fruit and vegetables. So, from an early age, I came to understand the importance of the weather and changing seasons in growing food.

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 them and ate them before our mother noticed. These were treasured times, on which I always look back fondly.

Meal times were spent to-ing and fro-ing from the garden, where we loved to dig for fresh vegetables, which were then taken back to the kitchen to be prepared for a family meal. Seeing things grow and come to life was so much fun for us. Seeing how much we enjoyed the garden, my mother let me and Robert have a small patch of the vegetable plot to try our hand at growing weird and wonderful vegetables. Of course, we tried everything; from different coloured carrots and large squashes to yellow courgette. Few things tasted better to me than eating a new crop of baby potatoes with a little fresh mint all from our own garden. Understanding these simple tastes and experiencing those wonderful delicacies was the start of my own steps 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 my father started a wine shop and a wine importing company, not only with French wines but with the start of New World wines too.

He was very successful and I would say a true pioneer of his time, as dabbling in New World wine early 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.



Summers were often spent in Auvergne, in the south of France. These really piqued my interest in the world of French culture and cuisine.

We had many outings to local restaurants and food shops, which were head and shoulders above what I’d ever experienced in our local Sainsbury’s. Experiencing all these new foods was almost a magical experience. I remember going into the local Carrefour or Intermache where the fish and meat counters just ran on forever and where there was an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce and an array of ripe and juicy soft fruits on offer. The explosive taste of the strawberries and peaches was heavenly.


On one particular trip down to France, my father accidentally booked us into a Michelin Star restaurant. He only realised the magnitude of what he had booked when we arrived at the restaurant hotel to find our car surrounded by two men wearing white gloves in white jackets and bow ties. I remember the look on his face when he realised what we’d let ourselves in for!

That evening I had the most extraordinary meal – one I still remember vividly to this day. This was in 1983 so It was still the era of nouvelle cuisine, tiny little portions delicately put together with the tiniest of details. The waiters lifting cloche after cloche of frogs legs, snails foie gras, rise de veau, For a twelve year old boy, it was an unforgettable experience. I was spellbound.



It was at the age of 13 that I first seriously thought about becoming a chef. I wasn’t a great student at school and I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk in an office. My lack of attention in class was reflected in my exam results and I dreaded parents evening and the inevitable: ‘he could do so much better…he must improve and pay attention’ and ‘your son will never achieve much if he carries on like this’. The usual encouraging words.

Luckily for me Norwich, one of the best catering colleges in the UK, was my local and I randomly decided to call them to see what qualifications I needed to get in. Told that it was just an interview and basic entrance exam, I was delighted and applied.  Increasingly my time at school had become less important and I left school with few qualifications, much to the disappointment of my parents. I had a strong belief that cooking was what I wanted to do, however my parents had visions of me and my brother flipping burgers in McDonalds, so I had to reassure them that I had an ambition to build a serious career. So, in 1986 my brother and I joined the catering college in Norwich.


It was not all plain sailing, as I had had a relatively bad application interview, and was told by one cookery teacher that I had only been accepted onto the course as they didn’t want separate my brother and I because we were twins. This made me feel quite defiant and I started to seriously think about the future and where I wanted to be in 10 years’ time. I decided I wanted to make a name for myself by the age of 26 and started to map out how I was going to get there. So, at the young age of 18 I had a plan of action – and I was going to stick to it.



After college I went straight to London. I sent my very scant CV to about 20 different hotels and restaurants and every one came back with a rejection and the same answer: “Sorry, not enough experience – try again in three years’ time” ! The best chefs at that time were Pierre Koffmann, The Roux Brothers, Nico Ladenis, and Marco Pierre White, who was just starting out. These places had 2-3 year waiting lists and if you managed to get in, you knew you were amongst a select lucky few. So regardless of the hours and the pay and, to an extent, regardless of how you were treated, you respected your employer and you were grateful for the job. As it was impossible to get into one of these top establishments for a beginner, I changed tactic and decided to write to the same 20 odd hotels and restaurants but this time offering to work for free for the first 6 months in the hope of attracting their attention and being given the opportunity to prove myself. It was a real sacrifice but when you are desperate to work for the best, and you have goals and aspirations, you will do anything to get there.

So I landed my first job in London working with David Cavalier at Cavaliers, Battersea, and I felt incredibly lucky. I got my head down, starting right at the bottom of the ladder on a six month unpaid placement in the vegetable section.  The 18 hour days were intense, but the excitement kept me going and eventually led to a full-time, paid job – David saw how passionate and dedicated I was to the work.

The brigade were a hard-nosed bunch who taught me a lot. I remember one chef in particular, Denny, often fuelled by 20 Nescafé coffees and a pack of Marlboro’s, took time to teach me.  He was a good chef and despite his broken English, I learned a lot from him. I found it hard though. David was a chef with a short temper, and I suspect that this influenced my own behaviour in my formative years. It was an extremely exciting kitchen to work in, everything was either second hand or broken which made the job even harder.  Added to that was David flying off the handle at anything that was not the way he wanted, so the atmosphere was volatile.  The kitchen was cramped and small, with the dry store downstairs in the basement, there was a lot of running up and down the stairs all the time.  However the produce was some of the best I had ever seen and my eyes were on stalks half the time, just seeing the amazing variety and quality on offer.

It’s quite funny looking back on it; we could handle as many as 10 covers for lunch and in the evening we would happily cope with 20 covers rising to an absolute maximum of 30 at weekend evenings. The kitchen and ‘brigade’ were so small and some of the equipment had seen better days, but the food that was produced was amazing and I was thrilled to be in this world where nothing but the best would do – it was so exciting.

After getting a paid job as a commis, I found life really tough. 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, one night, I was 20 at the time, feeling hard done by and after a bad service and a terrible bollocking over something small, I decided not to go back to the kitchen.

To my surprise, 4 days later, David’s wife Sue knocked at my door and said that David wanted to talk to me. It turned out to be an inspirational pep talk – he told me he saw real talent and potential in me; that I was dedicated, passionate and hard working. He felt that I could really go somewhere in the industry, but the underline words were: “stick with it –  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 another year, kept my head down, put in the hours and, of course, it all did pay off. When I asked David to speak with Pierre to see if he could get me a job at La Tante Claire, he did. It is amazing how with a little bit of forward planning things fall into place.



I remember my interview at La Tante Claire as being an extremely nerve racking moment. I was in awe of Pierre Koffman but luckily the interview was short and I was given the job.

Pierre Koffmann is an exceptional man and I adored working for him.  It was so exhilarating and there was a buzz of excitement in his kitchen that I had never felt before.   He was 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, with whom I shared the larder section hardly spoke – there was just an understanding that he would do his job and I would do mine.

The majority of the kitchen was French and they disliked the English chefs working on their turf. We were made to feel that we couldn’t cook and were called ‘les Rosbif’. The team in the kitchen at that time was pretty exceptional: there was myself, the sous chef Eric Chavot, Paul Rhodes, Tom Kitchin and Helena Puolakka, to name but a few. After three months, I was moved from the larder to the fish section, it was great to move onto a section where I would be working on my own, so I felt I really had to prove myself.

I was now 21 but hadn’t touched a piece of fish since college – I had literally six weeks to get up to speed with another French chef showing me the ropes (who I think must have wanted me to fail as he was so half-hearted). I had a chat with Pierre, but he reassured me and, as it happened, I picked it up again very quickly.

Eventually my speed built up and I could prep a wild salmon from start to finish in 5 minutes. If you messed up, however, you paid the price and the next day there could be 3-4 boxes of cuttlefish waiting to be prepared. Removing the ink sack from the cuttlefish was a very messy job. The ink was used for the black ink sauce for one of Pierre’s signatures dishes: roast scallops with black ink sauce, red pepper and garlic cream.  The rest of the cuttlefish meat would be turned into staff food, which was curried most of the time and tasted foul. You might also get several boxes of baby red mullet to fillet and pin bone, which would take a few hours to prepare. All in all it was all great fun and Pierre would come and race me in prepping the fish, which quickly built up my confidence and speed. His moods could change in an instant; one minute he would be laughing and joking and then the next giving you grief, so you had to read him very well.

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.

When I left Tante Claire I was quite sad because it was such a great experience. Twenty years on I still have my recipe folder and look back on those days with great fondness and nostalgia. However, I was determined to move on, so after 14 months I went to The Capital with Philip Britten. I had just nine months there and learned a lot from Philip but I had already organised my next job at Pied à Terre when I joined The Capital.



I joined Pied à Terre to work with Richard Neat.  He was an extremely imaginative and creative chef, full of ideas and a little madness too.  I still remember the banging sound of Richard chopping chicken bones for the jus, this was made every morning without fail.  This was the sound I heard every morning whilst waiting outside to be let in.

The team was small, with only four or sometimes five of us in the kitchen to cook a small amount of covers.  The food was very creative, but the kitchen was tired.  It needed a lot of repairs which was challenging and I would be expected to repair things in the kitchen all the time.  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’ from Richard as he continued to chop his chicken wings but little did I know that Pied à Terre would become such an important place for me.


I remember Richard would go over the lunch menu at 10.30am and there would be no time to get any second deliveries of vegetables; so I would have to run down to the local market or Tesco’s to get last minute supplies. I thought this was madness. We worked six days a week, with very few breaks between services and just Sundays off. Despite all the hardship of the place I learnt an awful lot from Richard and I have to thank him as he got me a place at a very well-known restaurant in Paris called Joël Robuchon.



In 1994, I left London and headed to France. My time there 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 was such a huge change from the small team at Pied à Terre. I have to say that compared with 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’, quite dull, but fine with me.

Each section had between two and six chefs and in service no one was allowed to talk, it was a completely quiet kitchen.  When the checks came in, Robuchon read out the orders and you had only one chance to get it right. We wrote on a piece of tin foil stuck to the wall and as the orders came in, we would write down how the meat was to be cooked, what the table number was and, at the same time, cook and dress. During the service you were not allowed to look at or speak to Robuchon so you had to concentrate very hard.

There was no second chance, if you made a mistake you were told to leave instantly.  I only ever saw a couple of chefs leave. We were all super focused and on edge all through the day, so as not make any mistakes.

I lived near the Gare du Nord, a good 45 minutes from work, I would get up at 4.40am and would be at the Trocadero near Avenue Poincaret by 5.30am, in time for a quick triple espresso and a croissant, then into the kitchen by 5.50am. We would work from 6am to 1am, with a quick break at 4pm. We would run down to the Haagen-Dazs stall to eat vanilla ice cream for 20 minutes, returning to work at 4.20pm to get ready for the evening service.  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 shattered – having three hours of sleep a night was tough and no amount of Nurofen 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 camaraderie 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 amount of cleaning we did was extreme. Every service the ovens and stoves were stripped and cleaned, the brass was polished, the stove tops scrubbed with green scourers and finished with sandpaper so they glistened like stainless steel. The really bizarre thing was that at the beginning of the week we were only given half of a green scourer and a small bottle of bleach – these ran out quickly so we all had to buy our own cleaning supplies. At the end of the week we all had to do a really big clean down after service so we would finish around 3-4am and I would hear the birds singing in the trees on my way back home.

The produce there was the best I’d ever seen; truffles, ceps, wild strawberries, fresh almonds, peaches – all fresh every day and inspirational in quality. I remember the Perigord truffles being out if this world and the smell was truly amazing.

There was one particular dish that I shall never forget: the Poulet de Bresse with Perigord truffles. We pan fried thick slices of truffles in butter, then they were de-glazed with Madeira and a little white chicken stock and cream. The chicken had sliced truffles under the skin of the breast and legs and was then poached in a truffle stock. To finish it off, we made truffle macaroni which was roasted in a little butter and coated in chopped truffles, 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 of course 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 three 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 approximately 12 hours a day – which felt like heaven compared to where I had come from. 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 their traditional cellars. Santé!



I always had a thing about having to make it by the age of 26, starting with the experience of my disastrous interview at college and being told that I wouldn’t amount to much by a teacher there. So, bizarrely, when I got a 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 and his team, they left and I was on my own. I wondered why anyone would want to come and work for me -I had no following, no team, no reputation and I was under immense pressure knowing I could lose one star, if not both.

For the first six months there were three of us in the kitchen and it was hard going.  I had no management experience and my people skills were diabolical. I was a chef working 20 hour days, six days a week and I slightly lost control. It took me a while realise that 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 crazy, I didn’t know how to delegate and became a complete control freak, which did not help me or my team.

But September came around and a weight was lifted off my shoulders when the Michelin Guide was released and it was confirmed that we retained the second star and I had become the youngest British chef to achieve this accolade. I was ecstatic with the news and after five years there, I knew it was time for me to move on.



After I left Pied a Terre, Pierre Koffmann offered me the head chef position at La Tante Claire at the Berkeley. It was such a thrill to be working back with Chef again.



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 exhausted, and to be honest, I needed a break.

For the next two years I stepped out of the professional kitchen and decided to work privately for Lord Lloyd Webber and the Bamford family.  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.

At the beginning, 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 was passionate, and it was clear how deeply she wanted to make an impact. That made us a natural pairing.

Working with Carole and the team really opened my eyes to the processes behind food production. It gave me an appreciation for the work that farmers put into giving us chefs great ingredients to cook with. But I was starting to miss the buzz of a service kitchen. I began to hatch a plan for a new restaurant of my own – one that would reflect and celebrate all the farm and food production knowledge I’d picked up at Daylesford.



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.

As always with a new team in a new environment, it took time to settle in. We’d agreed to film a TV show called ‘Trouble at the Top’, a documentary on the opening of the restaurant. Filming started six 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. Stressful times, but I remember those first few years with a lot of fondness.

Then after eleven years, we decided to close Tom Aikens restaurant in 2014 to focus on my other projects. It was really hard decision for me – I’d seen so many great chefs pass through this kitchen. Many of them 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.



This is without a doubt London’s biggest and most significant charity fundraising dinner – over £20 million a year is raised for the UK’s children’s charities. So when I was asked to create a fine dining menu for 2,000 guests, I was delighted. This was one of the first functions that I did with The Admirable Crichton, which would then lead us onto forming a more permanent partnership.


I was asked to come and cook for a prestigious event for Sotheby’s Diamonds for the Grand Prix weekend in Monaco. This involved a cocktail reception aboard The R.M. Elegant in the company of HRH Prince Albert and the F1 drivers followed by a seated dinner for 60 VIP customers of Sothebys.


My first cookbook ‘’Tom Aikens: Cooking’ was published by Ebury in October 2006. This was a mixture of simple everyday recipes as well as more elaborate restaurant dishes from the Tom Aikens restaurant. The book was broken down into cooking categories from easy to hard, as well as simple step-by-step cooking methods.


I created a one-off dinner event for Michelle Ong, a fine jewellery designer who co-founded Carnet. The dinner was to celebrate the launch of the hit movie The Da Vinci Code, which she’d created all the jewellery for (including the plot-changer Fleur de Lys, key of the Da Vinci Code). The menu was frogs legs with morille and chervil, lamb loin with fennel and anchovy, then mango delice with lime.


The idea for Tom’s Kitchen was borne out of my upbringing in Norfolk, and what I loved most about food and the sheer pleasure of eating with friends and family. Memories from my childhood, sitting at a large kitchen table with my family and brothers, eating straight from the pot or everyone sharing their food with each other.

Tom’s Kitchen was created to embody all that sharing food means to me, from a simple cooked breakfast, to a large family dinner. So many of us have had these special moments which have revolved around sharing a great lunch or supper with those we love. I wanted Tom’s Kitchen to feel like everyone’s kitchen, more like an open house than a traditional restaurant.

When I opened the first Tom’s Kitchen on Cale Street, Chelsea in 2006,I wanted to put into practice everything I’d 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. The ethos of Tom’s Kitchen is simple: use the very best ingredients, seasonal and locally sourced wherever possible.

Tom’s Kitchen currently has four sites across London, one in Birmingham and one international flagship in Istanbul.



My second book, Fish, came out of travels to fish markets and conversations with fishermen locally and worldwide, In the book, I provide an insight into the state of the fishing industry of today and question what the future looks like for our troubled waters. Highlighting the need for sustainable and responsible fishing, looking at other varieties of fish such as megrim sole, pollack and gurnard. While creating new takes on old favourites like salmon, sea bass, scallops and crab. With over 200 recipes which range from very simple to some more elaborate chosen recipes. An A-Z guide to fish species indicating which ones to choose and which to avoid and how to tell when something is fresh. I also added step by step preparation techniques of flat and round fish as well as shellfish.



This was a very proud moment for all of us at restaurant Tom Aikens where we obtained the very difficult five star status in the AA guide. This same year I had the great privilege of cooking for all the guests at the AA Awards, where I cooked the main course dish of baby lamb with fig puree and sheeps cheese.



My third book, Easy, is on simple cooking. It’s very simple home cooking full of ideas and cooking tips and answers the question of what to do with leftovers. The book covers breakfast, light snacks, food on the go, food on the cheap, what food to make for a celebration and for a Sunday home roast.


As I was part of the ambassador program for Team 2012 and helped with fundraising for the British Olympic team, I had the great honour of being part of the Olympic torch relay. It was such an amazing honour to be part of this procession. As I ran across Battersea Bridge in London carrying the Olympic torch, thousands of people lined the streets and cheered me on my way. And I even got to keep the torch!



I created a menu for the courtside restaurant at Wimbledon championships for the duration of the competition, in conjunction with other great chefs Albert Roux and Bryn Williams. Serving lunchtime dishes like coronation chicken salad and crème caramel with poached verbena strawberries. This was such a hit, I returned for three more years, each time with new and adventurous menus and chefs. (Although over the years, the one constant was coronation chicken!)



This was a short PR trip to promote myself to the wider audience of Hong Kong, I was soon to be taking up the helm at The Pawn in Wan Chai and this was a one-off dinner where I served some of my dishes from Tom Aikens. Among the dishes were crab with horseradish and coconut, beef tartare, juniper and coriander mayonnaise pickled maitake, cauliflower, pannacotta truffle and mace flavoured gin, piglet belly with squid and pineapple, caramel parfait cinnamon twigs and apple jelly.


In October 2014, I opened my first restaurant The Pawn in Asia (Hong Kong) in partnership with the Press Room Group, which already runs about 15 restaurants and cafés in Hong Kong.

The first time I went 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 there. 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, 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. The rooftop is also home to our garden where we grow herbs, vegetables, salads and edible flowers.


In September 2015 I opened my first restaurant in the Middle East – Pots, Pans & Boards, in collaboration with my business partners Meeras. Dubai’s food scene is incredibly exciting and many great international chefs are opening restaurants here.

The name of the restaurant was rooted in what I truly love about food: it can be delicious and amazing served family-style in pots, pans and on boards. The menu may include British classics as well as dishes with a French & Mediterranean influence. The food is very personal, with a strong identity, and it’s continually evolving. Pots Pans & Boards is buzzy and friendly, informed yet informal. The perfect environment to relax – a home away from home, where you feel completely at ease, a place to have fun and above all enjoy the pleasures of eating with family and friends.


Over the last few years I have been concentrating mainly on restaurant consultancy and planning new restaurants beyond the UK. Having accrued more than 25 years experience in the industry, I love the challenge of working with new partners and using my knowledge to create new restaurants, concepts and special events. Growing my international restaurant portfolio has also been a key focus, with a new restaurant and deli opening in Doha 2019.

And I’m also working on a restaurant closer to home, so watch this space..