Tom Aikens Chefs

After Hours

Tom Aikens

The youngest British chef to be awarded two Michelin stars speaks to Imogen Lepere about his love for Chinese offal, the experience that made him become a chef and his ethos for sustainability

Where did you last go on holiday? - I do a lot of food-focused trips and often travel halfway across Europe just for a lunch. I recently surprised my wife by taking her to Osteria Francescana in Italy’s Modena. It was an early start but totally worth it. Chef Massimo Bottura’s creativity is incredible. He served five different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in five textures – as a flavouring for ice cream, a mousse, a crispy base, a sauce and in a froth he called ‘parmesan air’. He’s super-down-to-earth.

When did you decide to become a chef? - My father was in the wine business and we did a lot of road trips in France when I was a child. He never looked in guidebooks, much to my mother’s annoyance, but somehow managed to sniff out brilliant restaurants. One day when I was 12, he took us to one in a stately home that has since closed down. I had tomato salad, veal fillet larded in beef fat with hand-cut chips, followed by a poached peach with vanilla ice cream. That was the first time I saw amazing food and is the meal that has defined my life.

Where in London do you go to eat? - I live near Chelsea but my favourite restaurants are in east London. I love The Clove Club and the Typing Room in Shoreditch. My favourites are mid-range casual dining concepts that do excellent food. Chick ‘n’ Sours is a prime example: excellent fried chicken and sour cocktails in a laid-back setting. Kitchen Table behind Goodge Street is consistently fresh and exciting, too.

Why is sustainability so important to your cooking? - I grew up in Cringleford in Norfolk with a big vegetable garden and always helped Mum make chutneys. That interest in seeing an ingredient’s journey from field to plate has stayed with me. After five years at Pied à Terre I needed something different and helped Carole Bamford set up the first Daylesford shop. I also worked in the abattoir, which got me thinking about where meat comes from. Now I only use British suppliers at my restaurants.

Where in the world has the most exciting food scene? - China’s food scene is as ambitious as London’s, with new restaurants opening all the time. Hong Kong, in particular, is becoming a hub for talented chefs. Yardbird is a chicken restaurant that is always buzzing. Try the wings with salt, shichimi (Japanese spice mix) and egg yolk. 22 Ships is my favourite Jason Atherton restaurant but I always try local spots, too. Ho Lee Fook on Elgin Street is my current favourite. Chinese chefs do amazing things with offal. The duck intestines there are served like noodles alongside green peppers and oyster sauce.

Which one dish should we order off your menu? - The seven-hour lamb shoulder braised in balsamic vinegar with onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary. The vinegar cuts through the fat and it becomes a melting pot of pure deliciousness.

This article was published on 21st December 2016 so certain details may not be up to date.

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