Q&A with Tom Aikens

Tom AikensLeading British chef Tom Aikens joined us in June 2012 to answer questions on his eventful career, share his favourite dishes and offer some cooking tips.

Tom opened his eponymous Chelsea restaurant in 2003. By the following year it had a Michelin star and in 2005 took eighth place in Restaurant magazine's World's 50 Best Restaurants. Find out more about the maverick chef.
 
Recipe recommendations | Cooking for others | Top tips | Tom's favourites | Being a chef 

 

Recipe recommendations

Q. worldgonecrazy: Can you recommend any simple dishes with wow-factor that can be prepared and cooked in under 45 minutes?

A. Tom Aikens: My cookbook Easy has plenty of simple dishes in it. You won't go far wrong with my cherry tomato gazpacho in summer with my easy profiteroles for dessert.

Q. BellaOfTheBalls: What's your best dish for the last day before the weekly shop when the fridge is bare?

"A simple casserole or stew, cooked the day before serving and infused with lots of herbs and spices is such a good way to use up any old veg or meat."

A. Tom Aikens: I would have to say either a simple casserole or stew, cooked the day before serving (which gives it maximum flavour) and infused with lots of herbs and spices. It is such a good way to use up any old veg or meat.

Q. FamiliesShareGerms: What would you rustle up if you had to do tea for a cricket match in a fairly basic kitchen with a budget of about £30?

A. Tom Aikens: How about some marinated chicken on skewers? You can spice and marinate the chicken and then grill. Or, you could do some different flavoured veggie and meat wraps, slightly more exciting than a simple sandwich.


Cooking for others

Q. hattifattner: When you have people over for dinner, what do you cook? Do you show off, or do you shove a lasagne in the oven and open another bottle of wine?

A. Tom Aikens: I actually love a home made lasagne, but I tend to go the whole way and make the pasta and a simple sauce of beef mince, caramelised onions and red wine myself. Another simple dish I love to cook at home is roast lemon chicken with lemon thyme.

Q. TodaysAGoodDay: I have a couple of friends that are coming round in July for dinner. One is a vegetarian and the other is allergic to eggs and cheese. What on earth do I do for them? Ideally it needs to be three courses.

A. Tom Aikens: This is a common problem and one we have to face at our restaurants daily. I would suggest a vegetable tarte fine (which could be either a starter or main), I have one in Easy where I use filo pastry with a crème fraiche and sorrel base. Then you can thinly slice some veg of your choice on top and bake it. For dessert I would recommend some kind of fool, rhubarb perhaps.

"I think that it's good for people to experiment and be creative but not to the point where they cannot pull it off, it is pointless spending hours over dishes which are inedible or look terrible. Stick to dishes you know you can cook and that taste nice. Then once you are competent, begin to experiment."

Q. Tyelperion: I recently went to a very try-hard dinner party where there was a lot of masterchef style "plating up" and smears of stuff on plates going on. Do you think people should be aiming to recreate a restaurant experience at home? And do you think TV programmes like masterchef are helpful in getting people cooking?

A. Tom Aikens: Oh dear, I think we all have experiences of dinner parties like that. I think that it's good for people to experiment and be creative but not to the point where they cannot pull it off, it is pointless spending hours over dishes which are inedible or look terrible. My advice would be to stick to dishes you know you can cook and that taste nice and then once you are competent, begin to experiment.

Q. Mummyinggnome: What's your best vegan dish?

A. Tom Aikens: My best vegan dish, would have to be the lovely baked onion with onion consommé that we make at work. We use tiny onions cooked in a sherry caramel and the end result is gorgeously sweet and sticky.

 

Top tips

Q. assumpta: Is there a general rule to follow with starters and main courses, for example, if you are serving a meat main course should the starter be vegetarian or fish, or can it be meat? Or if you are serving fish, what should the starter be? 

A. Tom Aikens: Generally, yes, I will do a fish or veg starter if cooking a meat main course. With a fish main, though, you can serve either a veg, fish or meat starter - soups or salads are always good options as they are generally light. The important thing to remember with starters is to keep things simple, marinated fish or a simple ceviche are other good options.

Q. IslaValargeone: Could you tell me how to prevent potatoes from discolouring when grating them for a rösti?

A. Tom Aikens: Well, the truth is they will always discolour but if you have them prepared and peeled already, and then place them in ion water before grating, this will lessen the extent to which they discolour. Also, make sure you grate them one by one.

"My tip for a great gravy: When you roast a joint, put veg and herbs in with it; carrots, onions, garlic and thyme all work well. Season with a little sea salt and cook until golden brown, then place into a pot with a few chopped fresh tomatoes, a little red wine and tomato puree, cover this with water or a white chicken stock, plus some of the roasting bones. Bring to a simmer and cook for approximately an hour, this will give you the best gravy known to man."

Q. MousyMouse: Do you have a tip to make a nice simple gravy that actually has colour? 

A. Tom Aikens: When you roast a joint, put veg and herbs in with it; carrots, onions, garlic and thyme all work well. Season with a little sea salt and cook until golden brown, then place into a pot with a few chopped fresh tomatoes, a little red wine and tomato puree, cover this with water or a white chicken stock, plus some of the roasting bones. Bring to a simmer and cook for approximately an hour, this will give you the best gravy known to man.

Q. growingweeble: We are about to move into a house where the kitchen needs modernising. What are your must-haves for a really functional kitchen?

A. Tom Aikens: My best advice would be to make sure that you have enough storage space and that at least one of your work surfaces is next to the sink - which will help to keep things tidy.

Q. BartletForAmerica: What things should we splurge on and what things are fine if you buy the Tesco Value (or other supermarket own brand) version?

A. Tom Aikens: Good knives are a must as they can be more dangerous when blunt. As for the Tesco Value range, maybe just chopping boards as they don't need to be too expensive. 

Q. LimburgseVlaai: Over the winter we always end up with a lot of pheasant in the freezer (usually skinned rather than plucked) and the odd partridge. Nice problem to have but... Can you suggest some really good pheasant recipes that are not too elaborate to make?

A. Tom Aikens: You can mince pheasant up and chuck it in pies or casseroles and serve with some winter vegetables of your choice. 

Q. blue2: I also have loads of pheasant - some unskinned, too. Any recipe ideas?

A. Tom Aikens: How about making a pheasant terrine by mincing the legs with some pork fat, adding some seasoning and spice, a little port armagnac, a few eggs, fresh herbs of your choice and some breadcrumbs, you can line the terrine mould with strips of smoked bacon. 

 

Tom's favourites

Q. FrankWippery: In your own kitchen (as opposed to your professional one) what single piece of equipment/utensil could you not manage without?

A. Tom Aikens: I've always maintained that a great blender is vital. I love my Vita prep, it can pretty much purée anything.

"My last supper would have to be a lovely roast beef joint with great chips and béarnaise sauce and for dessert, apple pie and vanilla ice-cream"

Q. natcat7000: I like to think I have good taste but have been known to crave tinned Spaghetti occasionally. Do you have any guilty food secrets?

A. Tom Aikens: There's always one! To be honest, not really as I am a bit of a health fit freak, although I do have a penchant for a good scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Q. TheWholeCaboodle: Do you have a personal cooking nemesis ie something that you find difficult/impossible to get right every time? And what would your last supper be?

A. Tom Aikens: Without blowing my own trumpet, I would say that I can now pretty much cook anything without messing it up. As for my last supper, it would have to be a lovely roast beef joint with great chips and béarnaise sauce. For dessert, I would go for apple pie and vanilla ice-cream, I told you I had a weakness for vanilla ice cream!

Q. LaTrucha: What is your favourite cook book? Also, do you have any tips for making food really special?

A. Tom Aikens: My favourite cookbook is My Last Supper by Melanie Dunea, it's chefs explaining what their last wish dishes would be. As for my top tips... Make sure that you are constantly seasoning as you cook and use fresh and seasonal ingredients.

 

Being a chef 

Q. ChunkyBrewster: No questions but just had to say how much I love your restaurant Tom! We went there for our wedding dinner and we go every year on our anniversary. It is my favourite place in the world and when I die, heaven will be your dining room. Also, when you did the pop up Cloudy Bay stand in Parsons Green, I thought I had actually shuffled off my mortal coil as Cloudy Bay is my favourite wine and your food is my favourite.. well, food.

A. Tom Aikens: Thank you so much ChunkyBrewster, very, very kind of you. As a chef, it means a lot to hear stories like that.

Q. iklboo: What do you think is the most overrated ingredient or cooking technique used at the moment?

A. Tom Aikens: I would say that using a water bath for home cooking is taking things a little too far. Ingredient-wise, micro cress has to be up there.

Q. Princesslovelyboo: I have a deaf/blind teen with ambitions to be a pastry chef. What are the key basic skills that he should master before he moves on to more complex baking/pastries? 

A. Tom Aikens: I would start him on basic pastry first and then move him on to cake making, this will give your son a feel for some of the essential techniques like baking, folding in, mousse making etc. 

Q. aristocat:  What profession would you choose if you were not a chef? Also which other chef do you admire the most?

A. Tom Aikens: I would most likely have gone into sport, as I love fitness, running and cycling. One other chef I really admire is Thomas Keller, a great chef with amazing restaurants.

Last updated: almost 2 years ago