British-born, Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens is serving up classic British comfort food with his latest culinary venture, Pots, Pans & Boards.
Here, Savoir Flair sits down with the restaurant owner and author to discuss everything from Aikens’ most memorable meal, to how to become a great chef.
If one wants to prepare a quintessentially British meal, what dishes should be involved?
Well, I can think of a few. The British like simple things like a Scotch egg, Waldorf salad, chicken liver parfait, or crab on toast as a starter; a nice Sunday roast beef joint with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish and side vegetables, beer-battered fish and chips or Shepherd’s Pie as a main; and a Sticky Toffee Pudding, Baked Alaska or Eton Mess as a dessert.
How did the Pots, Pans & Boards concept develop?
The idea behind Pots, Pans & Boards stems from my own nostalgia of family and home cooking in a bustling and comforting environment; everyone eating delicious casual food straight from the pot or pan and just enjoying the moment in a relaxed environment. Sharing food with friends and family means so much to me; it brings people closer together and makes the whole aspect of dining and eating out a truly enjoyable experience.
I literally came up with the whole concept from scratch so it is amazing to see it come together after staring at it on a presentation for months. It is even better looking than I thought it would be. There are lots of small touches in the restaurant like hanging chandeliers of copper pots and pans, old kitchen knives, large heavy cleavers stuck into the walls of the kitchen, and antique kitchen tiles. I personally handpicked every item that decorates the restaurant from various markets in the UK and France to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional family kitchen.
Be patient and persevere — sometimes working as a chef involves taking steps backwards and forwards to get to where you want to be.
How does one become a great chef?
It takes a lot of determination, hard work and self-belief. You have to have a game plan and set your goals for the future. Be patient and persevere — sometimes working as a chef involves taking steps backwards and forwards to get to where you want to be.
Was there anything you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I’ve always just loved to cook. For as long as I can remember — probably from the age of 8 or so — my twin brother and I were helping my mother out in the kitchen. She would involve us in making cakes and home baking, or just weighing things out, but we were always on hand to help to lick out the occasional sticky raw cake mix that was left in the bottom of the bowl. At around 13 years old, I knew I wanted to become a chef.
However, if I were not a chef I think I would have had a career in sports. In my early twenties, I started running, cycling, and horse riding. I really enjoyed taking part in the Etape du Tour, a 220 km race in France, and also completed the Marathon des Sables, which is a run across the Sahara Desert, considered one of the toughest footraces on earth.
What is your most memorable meal?
My first true gastronomic experience was in a restaurant that my father had booked following the recommendation of one of his suppliers. We turned up at the hotel and two waiters came out to the car wearing white gloves and bow ties. We thought that our father had definitely made a mistake booking this place as it was completely unlike him.
That night, at 12 years old, I had my first real explosion of tastes. My mother and father were eating nouvelle cuisine style portions of frogs’ legs and snails whilst my twin brother and I had the most delicious and simple tomato salad with really flavorful tomatoes, shallots, a great olive oil, sea salt, and a little red wine vinegar. We then had a beef fillet larded with beef fat and hand-cut chips cooked in beef dripping. It was just amazing; it melted in the mouth. For pudding, we were served a very simple poached peach in vervaine with vanilla ice cream, which was utterly sublime. As for my parents, they were tucking into frogs’ legs and snails, which were of course all the rage back then as well.
I can still remember those first tastes and flavors very distinctly, no matter how many great dinners and lunches I have professionally cooked or attended in all these years.
What new ingredients are you inspired by right now?
Having just opened up a restaurant in Hong Kong, I am intrigued by a host of wonderful Chinese ingredients, unusual cuts of meat, different sugars, soy sauce… The cuisine demands that you learn to strike a fine balance when using these ingredients and I am enjoying my culinary journey a little more each day with these beautiful ingredients.
Is there a single food you are secretly obsessed with?
Yes, vanilla ice cream!
Is there a food that you hate?
I don’t particularly enjoy any sort of smoked or oily fish. Smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, caviar. Talking about caviar, if you’ve watched the Tom Hanks movie Big, he captures my emotions perfectly when he mistakes caviar for a sweet topping with pancakes.