Unlike fellow Brit chefs Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson, 37-year-old Tom Aikens has steered clear of TV cameras, chatty cooking columns and eponymous cheese graters. He’s certainly got the chiseled good looks, the culinary chops—at 26, he became the youngest Brit to win two Michelin stars, at Pied à Terre in London’s West End—and a glamorous young society wife, to boot. But the rusty-haired chef describes himself as not a “great communicator.” And besides, who would man the burners if he went off seeking foodie fame? “Once you go down the TV route,” says Aikens, “it does kind of take a little bit of magic away.”
Aikens has two restaurants on London’s posh Chelsea Green, a charming enclave of town houses, quaint but pricey shops and cobblestone lanes. The Michelin-starred Tom Aikens serves up modern but hearty French cuisine—think braised pig’s head and roast scallops with poached grapes and Pernod—to big names like Michael Caine, John Malkovich, Bryan Ferry and Joan Collins. Nearby, Tom’s Kitchen, an all-day brasserie that opened to rave reviews last November, offers Anglo-French comfort food like pea soup, goat cheese salad and braised pig trotters. Now, just down the street, he’s opening a third outpost. Called simply Tom’s Place and set to open in mid-September, it’s Aikens’s take on that least gourmet of English eateries: the fish-and-chips shop.
“Fish-and-chips is the last bastion of fast food that hasn’t really been modernized,” says the chef on a gray morning at Tom Aikens. “The fish that’s most common on menus are on the highly endangered list, and the majority of it is frozen.” A stickler for seasonal, organic, locally produced food, Aikens plans to take a different tack. Unlike the typical English “chippy,” which offers a staggering array of seafood species, “we’re only going to use four or five types of fish,” he says, “including pollack and ling, which are both in the cod family but not as endangered.” All of it will be locally sourced, supplied by day boats trawling British waters, primarily around the Cornish coast. And the restaurant itself will also be environmentally friendly, with tables, trays and wall tiles made from recycled plastic and with recyclable wooden cutlery, paper cups and napkins.
Aikens credits his eco-consciousness to the time he spent working as a personal chef for Carole Bamford, England’s green queen. The founder of the Daylesford Organic food company as well as Bamford & Sons, an eco-clothing brand, Lady Bamford and her family are so insistent on local, organic ingredients that they run their own farm, breed livestock on their Gloucestershire estate and even have their own abattoir. “Working with her and on the farm definitely made me think twice about what I was doing,” says Aikens, who admits that beforehand he’d never really considered where his raw ingredients were coming from.