As Tom Aikens relaunches his flagship Chelsea restaurant, Tom’s Kitchen, he tells The Resident about his climb to the top and how he’s determined to keep shaking up the London restaurant scene
Lead image: David Griffen
Some people simply thrive off being busy. Renowned chef Tom Aikens is one of those people.
‘I’m definitely a workaholic,’ he says. ‘I try to take weekends off and spend time with the family, but I like to go to the gym and work out to keep me sane and I find it therapeutic. You have to be driven in the restaurant industry; it’s either full on or nothing.’
Aikens grew up in Norfolk, where his mother regularly cooked up meals using ingredients from the vegetable garden: ‘There was a lot of seasonal produce and jam making, and weekends were full of messing around in the kitchen,’ he says.
With his father in the wine business, Aikens also spent holidays in France experiencing French cooking and cuisine. By the age of 12 he already had a good idea what he wanted to do, and it was far from the typical 9-5.
‘I just thought that I didn’t want to sit at a desk and do something dull and boring,’ he says. ‘So I decided then that I would pursue a career as a chef. I called up a local food college in Norwich and asked them what qualifications I would need even though I wasn’t at high school yet.
I didn’t want to sit at a desk and do something dull and boring. So I decided then that I would pursue a career as a chef
‘They said that I didn’t really need any, so I just bumbled along with school from this point. My parents and teachers evenings were getting worse and worse, and when crunch time came and my final exam results weren’t very good, I told my parents what I was going to do and that I had had this plan all along.’
Aikens went to college and afterwards, headed to London. It was pretty impossible to get a job due to his lack of experience and the few restaurants that were available then. He tells me how he sent off a lot of letters saying that he would work for nothing for six months to prove himself.
‘One restaurant that did come back to me was a one Michelin star restaurant in Battersea called Cavalier’s,’ says Aitkens. ‘I stayed with him for six months and then he gave me a job so I had my foot on the ladder.’
Aikens then worked at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire in Chelsea, which gained a third Michelin star during his time there. In Paris, he worked with Joël Robuchon, and Gerard Boyer at Reims. He then returned to the UK as Head Chef of Pied à Terre, where, at 26, he became the youngest British chef ever awarded two Michelin stars.
But it was when working under Carole Bamford at Daylesford that his true passion for looking into where produce comes from came into play. ‘The farm to plate culture really wasn’t about at all in 2002,’ he says. ‘I thought it could be a really good way to focus on linking up suppliers for when I opened a restaurant myself one day.’
Fast forward to today and Aikens has opened restaurants in the Middle East, as well as his numerous London sites.
So, having worked under some of the industry greats, who had the biggest impact on him in his earlier career to inspire him to keep pushing and allow this to happen?
‘In terms of the chefs, it would definitely be Pierre Koffmann and Joël Robuchon who were two of the big chefs who were instrumental in my career,’ he says.
‘They are both very different. One is very much classical in his approach, and another very detailed in his approach and focused on the produce. They were always pushing things to the absolute limit.
‘I set up Tom’s Kitchen on the basis of this,’ says Aikens. ‘It’s all about suppliers being the heroes and mapping out where all of our produce comes from. I was way ahead of the curve of everyone doing that in 2006, and it had a good impact on people.’
Now, Aikens has relaunched his flagship Tom’s Kitchen restaurant in Chelsea. Following an extensive refurbishment by B3 Designers, he has introduced an exciting new menu offering seasonal British small plates, perfect to be shared with family and friends.
I was looking at all the old press clippings from when Tom’s Kitchen first opened and how much of a change it made on the restaurant scene in London, and I still want to do that now
Tom’s Kitchen Chelsea first opened in 2006 as a contemporary all-day brasserie, serving British favourites and comfort food classics in a relaxed and informal environment. Twelve years on, the restaurant’s renewal brings a welcoming and modern feel to the interiors.
‘I was looking at all the old press clippings from when it first opened and seeing how much of a change it made on the restaurant scene in London and I still want to do that now,’ he says.
‘Dining out has changed dramatically since then so you always have to up the game. We are keeping the heart of it, but making it a little bit more comfortable. Chelsea has changed a lot and there are a lot more restaurants now, which is a good thing,’ he insists.
But it seems that this year, Aikens is moving on to pastures new as well. ‘I’ve got a new restaurant in Abu Dhabi in a hotel, which is my main target this year,’ he says. ‘And then looking at a possible London location too.’