Acclaimed British chef Tom Aikens is a regular fixture in the gourmet travel world for his creative and visual French inspired British cuisine. Born into a family of wine merchants, Tom spent time in France as a child which is where he was inspired by the cuisine.
At the age of 26 he became the youngest chef to win two Michelin stars, and since 2006 he operates the popular Tom’s Kitchen restaurants located in both London and Istanbul.
Tom has also worked with Qatar Airways to develop the in-flight dining experience by taking into account how the taste buds are altered at 30,000 feet, and what types of food are most suited to long-haul flights.
Tom is currently the ‘Chef of the Season’ for Harrods in London. As part of this four-month role Tom has created a range of Classic Christmas dishes and canapés. In January the menu will change to warming winter starters, mains and puddings.
In between all of that Tom managed to find the time to talk to The Luxury Travel Bible being ‘Chef of the Season’, what luxury means to him and how his travels inspire his menus.
Tell us more about your role as ‘Chef of the Season’, at Harrods Food Hall.
I have created a range of classic Christmas dishes for Harrods to celebrate the festive season and then we’ll be serving Tom’s Kitchen classics to take home for the first time ever. My favourite dishes include roast turkey breast and trimming and venison casserole with cranberry and root vegetable mash. I also wanted to offer some canapés to accompany the larger dishes perfect for entertaining at home over the festive period as well. These include turkey rillettes, beetroot-cured salmon, seven-hour lamb croquettes and a sweet chocolate hot pot.
Why was it important for you to take on this role?
As Harrods is such a well renowned store and attraction in London, it was extremely exciting to be able to contribute to its offering and showcase Tom’s Kitchen’s most popular dishes to its customers. I am always extremely committed to serving fresh, ethically sourced ingredients and it’s great to show this outside of my restaurants and give people the opportunity to cook with these ingredients at home. Neighbouring Chelsea, Knightsbridge is an area the majority of our visitors to Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea are familiar with, therefore giving these guests the opportunity to enjoy Tom’s Kitchen food in their own home is a fantastic feeling.
What does 'luxury ' (in relation to travel) mean to you?
Luxury to me is somewhere I can relax with friends and family. Giving myself time to work out, refresh and just be me is very tough but investing in this has such a positive impact on my life. Time is a luxury that many of us don't have, so taking that time to travel with loved ones, whether that be at home or abroad, is a luxury to me.
What do you consider to be essential to create a special dining experience?
A restaurant team should be passionate, caring, hardworking and dedicated, if this is apparent to the diner their experience will always be memorable. Tom’s Kitchen was created to embody all that sharing food with friends and family means, bringing people together, breaking down barriers and delivering new flavours, if this is achieved I know our guests are receiving a special dining experience and an experience I would like to have when dining out.
... every culture and their cuisine has something special to offer and something you can learn from
Which country (in your opinion) has the best cuisine?
I think every culture and their cuisine has something special to offer and something you can learn from. I don’t think I have a favourite country as I enjoy travelling and exploring new food cultures all the time.
How have your travels inspired your cooking?
I’m fortunate to travel with work and have been to some amazing countries. One of my favourite cities is Paris. I moved there in 1993 to cook with Joel Robuchon and Gerard Boyer at Reims, this not only inspired me to take my career further, but it is also where I discovered how amazing local and sustainable produce is and realised that some of the best ingredients are right on your doorstep. As I am extremely passionate about cooking with fresh produce, I love visiting markets and meeting real people and suppliers to see what different countries have to offer and how I can deliver that to my restaurants.
Food creates memories. Is there a dish that instantly evokes a favourite travel experience or destination?
I fly to Istanbul around three to four times a year, sometimes I visit for work and other times to catch up with friends living in or also visiting the city. I love to experiment with a variation of interesting and exciting flavours, so the selection of Turkish spices that can be found in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar are my favourite Turkish ingredients. I love traditional Turkish dishes such as kofte and Borek.
When travelling, is there a 'comfort food' dish which reminds you of home?
A good medium rare steak and rhubarb crumble with custard
Which item(s) of food sum up luxury for you?
When I know where the food comes from, how it is grown and that it’s supporting local farmers, this is luxury to me. The integrity and sustainability of food is just as important as the taste, often the most natural of ingredients can be the most luxurious.
Which three foods would you take to a desert island?
I wouldn’t take any food, instead I’d take a barbecue, firelighters and a fishing rod , then I could catch and cook my own fish!
As well as your own, which are your favourite restaurants?
Le Champignon Sauvage
Daniel Clifford Midsummer house
Aiden Byrne Manchester House
L’Enclume Simon Rogan
Hand & Flowers in Marlow
Claude Bosi Hibiscus
Is there anywhere in the world that you haven't been to but you have always wanted to visit?
Japan is high up there, hopefully in the next couple of years I can go there and take time to explore – I’ve heard it’s one of the most amazing cities in the world!
What three things do you never leave home without?
Kept all in my Belstaff Bag
Where to next?
I’ve just opened the fifth Tom’s Kitchen in St Katherine Docks in London and have just re-opened The Pawn Restaurant in Hong Kong this autumn in Wan chai. I have another restaurant project in Dubai that will open early next year so watch this space!
Sarah Bryans 3/12/14