Sustainable fishing has become something of a buzz word within foodie circles, and one man who is leading the way with his approach and ideas is hot London chef Tom Aikens. F&HE chatted to him about his new fish and chip restaurant, how it puts eco-friendly food at the front of the menu and why restaurants around the world should do the same
Since the start of his career, Tom Aikens has somehow always made a noise on the foodie scene. At just 26, he was the youngest chef in Britain to hold two Michelin stars. He was born in Norwich into a family of wine merchants and after finishing an advanced catering diploma, he worked his way up the kitchen ladder at well-known eating establishments Cavaliers restaurant and London’s Capital Hotel.
He earned his Michelin stars while he was the head chef at Pied à Terre. But his infamous fiery temper got the better of him and he was asked to leave after an argument with one of his staff members. Not to be deterred, he enjoyed a stint as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s personal chef before going out on his own. These days, he has brought out a cookbook, Tom Aikens Cooking, and opened three restaurants all based in Chelsea, London.
His fine-dining restaurant, Tom Aikens, focuses on haute cuisine, while Tom’s Kitchen has more of a brasserie feel. But perhaps his biggest achievement to date has been spearheading the growing trend towards sustainability. His newest endeavour, Tom’s Place, opened its doors in December last year and prides itself on being an eco-friendly restaurant, serving only sustainably sourced fish, which he hopes will encourage ordinary people to do the same in their own homes. Here’s what he had to say.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW RESTAURANT, TOM’S PLACE.
The menu focuses primarily on fish and chips, for eating in and takeaway. I’m endeavouring to serve only fish from sustainable sources, so the menu features some lesserknown fish such as gurnard, pollack (a member of the cod family) and land megrim sole, offered breaded or battered. In addition, there are dishes such as bouillabaisse, mussels, squid, lobster and line-caught sea bass. The head chef at Tom’s Place is Yves Girard, formerly at The Red House in Berkshire and Le Bristol Hotel in Switzerland. The premises cover two floors, with seating for up to 50, plus a takeaway section. My aim is to make all aspects of the business – from the furniture to the menus to the takeaway wooden forks – as eco-friendly, and either recycled or recyclable, as possible, resulting in a “greener” restaurant.
WHY THE INTEREST IN SUSTAINABLE FISH?
Because the state of our seas is devastating. I did extensive research over a nine month period and found that we really
should be encouraging people to only eat sustainably sourced, seasonal fish. I’d love to see the power given back to the people who really care for the sea – the fishermen. They know exactly what’s happening with our sea and fish. And unless we change things, the fish and their livelihood will become eroded and ultimately disappear.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE DISH ON THE MENU?
Line-caught pollack, deep-fried in beer batter….delicious and sustainable!
DO YOU HAVE GREEN HABITS AT HOME TOO?
Yes, I recently had a “green audit” done in my home which helped my wife Amber and I realise where we could be more environmentally friendly. It’s too easy to forget how much difference it can make to switch plug sockets off at the mains when not in use and to take your own bags to the shops when grocery shopping. And if you recycle as much as you possibly can and really put the time and effort into it, you’ll find you have very little rubbish to put out each week.
HOW DO YOU JUGGLE THREE RESTAURANTS?
I base myself primarily at Tom Aikens, which is my fine dining restaurant. I cook lunch and dinner there Monday to Friday (it’s closed at weekends) and arrange meetings around that. My (twin) brother Robert, also a chef, runs Tom’s Kitchen – a more relaxed, brasserie-style restaurant with a bar upstairs, which eases my workload slightly. It helps having all three sites within 30 seconds of each other and it also helps having a superstar PA who organises my life like clockwork!
WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON FOOD AND COOKING?
It’s about trying to recapture memorable moments with food and the feelings of safety, security and love that I experienced as a child when enjoying Sunday roasts around the family table. I believe everyone is entitled to great food, regardless of class or background. Food is not just about what we eat; it defines our values, health, status, environment, as well as our culture, politics and economy. It plays many roles in our lives and touches us all in very different ways. Sometimes it gets too wrapped up in these things, but the real essence of Tom’s Kitchen is that great quality food is for us all. I believe food is best when it’s fresh and seasonal and has been produced close to home or locally sourced from people I know and trust.
IF YOU WEREN’T A CHEF,WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
I might have been a jockey.
OTHER THAN YOUR OWN, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE LONDON RESTAURANTS?
The Wolseley in Piccadilly – it’s great as it stays open late enough for me to be able to go after service. Also, Hakkasan in West London, though I rarely get to eat out as I’m always working.
HOW DO YOU EAT AT HOME?
I rarely do, but will sometimes cook for friends on weekends. Then it’s something delicious and easy like lasagne, a wholemeal pasta dish or I’ll roast a whole fish. I don’t waste anything, and with any leftovers will rustle up a risotto or something the following night.
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?
I love cycling and skiing and go to the gym four times a week. I spend the weekends with my wife and seeing friends.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR?
Building a thriving and exciting business.
AND THE BEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNT?
Never take anything for granted, never give up, and always have dreams and goals as they do become real.
WHAT’S YOUR SECRET ADDICTION?
Shopping – particularly for my wife!
DO YOU HAVE ANY FOOD HEROES?
Pierre Koffman (a three-Michelin star chef of French origin who’s widely regarded as one of the masters of the English restaurant scene) is, in my opinion, the greatest chef of all time. He’s retired now though.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Having the freedom to create whatever I want and to do it as a job is incomparable.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG CHEFS ENTERING THE INDUSTRY?
Get into a kitchen and start cooking. Learn everything and be prepared to work extremely long hours. It’s a prehistoric saying but hard work really does pay off; have goals, dreams and aspirations.
YOU’VE OPENED THREE RESTAURANTS AND WRITTEN A COOKBOOK – WHAT’S NEXT?
I’m writing a detailed cookbook on fish with information on conservation and more than 200 recipes. I also plan on extending Tom’s Kitchen so that we have approximately five or six in London. We’ve also just launched our own food product range under the Tom’s Kitchen brand into Selfridges that includes sauces, soups, chutneys, jams, dressings, oils, ketchups and a selection of ready-made meals, from coq au vin and confit duck to boeuf bourguignon.
WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
Making people happy with great food – through great food great things happen! I’d also like to continue working with the fishing industry to help change and improve things.