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January 27, 2012 9:58 pm
Chef Tom Aikens grew up in Norfolk. In his early career he worked for Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire, later becoming head chef at Pied à Terre. He opened Tom Aikens, recently refurbished, in Chelsea in 2003; he also runs two branches of Tom’s Kitchen in London.
What were your school dinners like?
At primary school, in Cringleford [Norfolk], they were very good. One of the things I remember was “cowboy hotpot” with lamb and mashed potato – we used to get it every Friday. Afterwards we had a fruit dessert, a crumble or a trifle. I used to look forward to Fridays.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking at home?
From the age of five or six, my twin brother Rob and I helped Mum to make cookies or biscuits; the raw cake mixture was one of my eternal delights. By the age of 12 we were cooking whole meals for our parents; we weren’t the cleanest of workers but we could make a simple casserole, or roast chicken with the trimmings.
What was your big break?
Getting into catering college at 16. Rob and I were in the same year, and three months in one of the teachers who didn’t particularly like me came up and said, “the only reason you’re on this course is because you’re a twin – we didn’t want to split you up, so watch what you’re doing”. That was a little bit nasty. In my head I said, “I’m going to make something of myself”. I gave myself 10 years, and by 26 I was head chef at Pied à Terre.
Who is the most difficult person you’ve cooked for?
When I opened Tom Aikens, Pierre Koffmann came in – it was nerve-wracking to be cooking for my former head chef. He was very proud.
I have a good control button, I’m lucky. At the restaurant I have a break in the afternoon and I’ll run around Hyde Park or go to the gym. Sometimes at home I make carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
Who would work in your dream kitchen?
I’d have Pierre Koffmann and Joël Robuchon as my sous chefs, then some of the friends I have worked with – Tom Kitchin, Anthony Demetre, Eric Chavot – as my chefs de parties. Pastry chef would be Nico Ladenis. Potwashers: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
What do you cook for a weekend lunch at home?
I love doing roast chicken, stuffed with quartered, squashed lemons, thyme and rosemary. I squeeze lemon juice over the skin and coarse sea salt; then roast for 45 minutes and rest for another 15. I serve it with wilted spinach with a little garlic, and mashed potato.
What would you choose for your last meal?
A nice roast rib of beef; red wine sauce and gratin dauphinois, green beans and some roast shallots. For pudding, treacle tart.
Tom Aikens, 43 Elystan Street, London SW3, 020 7584 2003, www.tomaikens.co.uk
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