Photograph of Tom Aikens by Chris Osburn
This weekend, Tom Aikens will be on hand cooking at the Cloudy Bay Shack (a kitted out airstream pop-up thingy). Parked at Parsons Green for Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 8pm, the “shack” will no doubt be the source for a queue of folks seeking quality seafood paired with crisp New Zealand wines at decent prices too (£4.50-£6.50 or £8.50 per dish when paired with wine). During our recent visit with Tom at his Chelsea kitchen, Londonist sampled his dishes for this event (we're still raving about his crayfish tails and watermelon salad). Based on what we tasted, we reckon that (should the weather hold) queueing up for Tom's summery fare would be well worth considering. Here are some highlights from our chat with Tom.
Just in case there's a reader that hasn't heard of you, can you give us a brief summary of your career and how you go to where you are today?
I went to catering college in Norwich for two years and worked as a commis chef at the Mirabelle in Eastbourne. After that, I came straight to London to work as a commis chef at the one star Cavalier's with David Cavalier in Battersea. Then I worked under Philip Britten for a year and under Pierre Koffmann for a year and a half at Pied à Terre. I left Pied à Terre to work in France, where I worked under Joel Robuchon in Paris and Gerard Boyer in Reims before returning to Pied à Terre to be their head chef for the next five years. Then I took a few years off and opened Tom Aikens in 2003 and Tom's Kitchen in 2007.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming Cloudy Bay Shack at Parsons Green? Will it be a good opportunity for people that might not be familiar with your food to get an idea what your cooking is all about?
It's very very simple food, with a few dishes from Tom's Kitchen that go especially well with Cloudy Bay wines. The event will be weather driven - so, I'm hoping for a good weekend.
The dishes to be served at the Cloudy Bay Shack are Tom's Kitchen style - with each using only three different ingredients.
On a recent visit to Tom's Kitchen, Londonist fell in love with one of the items to be served at Cloudy Bay Shack: tomato salad with basil melon mint crayfish tails and thought it was an ideal summer dish. Is that an old recipe? How did you come up with it?
I like watermelon. It's a very nice fruit that goes well with salty things. The crawfish is salty. It's my favourite from the Cloudy Bay menu and has a really juicy flavour.
Where do you source your seafood? How important is sustainability and using local and British ingredients?
Most of my fish comes from Cornwall and most of the shellfish is Scottish. A lot comes from someone from the Helford Estuary as well as in Looe. Cod and other fish are hand line caught. I've been sourcing my shellfish from a particular bay in Scotland for many years.
Where do you like to go when dining out in London? Where do you shop for your home kitchen?
I very rarely cook at home. I eat dinner at work most of the time. My fridge is completely empty. When I do go out, it's about once a month and probably at the weekend. I like going to the Wolseley and sometimes I'll have brunch at Tom's Kitchen.
How dynamic is the London dining scene and how does it compare with other world cities?
The range of different cuisines is better than in any other European city. You can find just about any kind of food in London that you can imagine and often at a very good price.
How important is pairing the right wine with the right dish? Any tips on how to do it?
I think of it in terms of what goes well with seafood, you can't go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. And a good red goes well with a bit of beef. But I really think it comes down to individual tastes and opinions. I think for people to appreciate food and wine matching, they should see it as a fun thing, maybe even as something to do at home to develop personal tastes.
At Tom's Kitchen, I do cooking classes every 3 months. One of the classes is a wine and food with my sommelier. The class provides some basic knowledge. We have tasting menus paired with wines at my restaurants as well. A lot of people go for those.
Got any other interesting projects in the works you'd like to share with our readers?
I've got Tom's Kitchen at Somerset House opening up at end of July. Lots of work!