In 2003, Tom Aikens opened his restaurant in London, the start of an empire that had six eateries to its name at its peak.
This British chef, who has opened restaurants in the UK, Turkey, Hong Kong and the Middle East, was exposed to French cuisine from a very early age. His family owned a holiday home in the Auvergne and travelled extensively around France. Both Tom and his twin brother Robert were often encouraged to be adventurous at the dinner table.
“We had many outings to local restaurants and food shops,” he remembers. “Experiencing all these new foods was almost a magical experience. I remember going into the local Carrefour or Intermarché 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.”
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Tom’s first Michelin-starred restaurant experience
Tom recalls his first ever experience of a Michelin-starred restaurant, which his father had accidentally booked for a family meal while in France. “We arrived to find our car surrounded by two men wearing white gloves in white jackets and bow ties. I remember the look on my father’s face when he realised what we’d let ourselves in for.”
To this day, Tom reminisces about the meal he enjoyed that evening. “This was in 1983, so it was still the era of nouvelle cuisine,” he says. “Tiny little portions, delicately put together. The waiters lifting cloche after cloche of frogs legs, snails, foie gras, ris de veau. For a 12-year-old boy, it was an unforgettable experience. I was spellbound.”
After attending catering college in Norfolk, Tom was soon working his way up through some of the most demanding kitchens on the London restaurant scene. In 1994, he secured himself a job at Joël Robuchon’s restaurant in Paris. “No one was allowed to talk, it was a completely quiet kitchen,” he remembers. “There was no second chance – if you made a mistake, you were told to leave instantly. We were all super-focused and on edge all through the day, so as not to make any mistakes.”
There followed stints at restaurants in France and London. Then in 2003, Tom opened his own restaurant in the British capital – the start of an empire that had six eateries to its name at its peak.
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