>> Tom Aikens Restaurant was awarded one Michelin Star for the "2013 Great Britain and Ireland" guide, and five Rosettes by the AA Guide. Tom was the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars and is undoubtedly one of the UK's most talented chefs.
Where does your passion for French cuisine originate?
Since both my father and grandfather were in the wine industry, it wasn't very long before I discovered French food! When I was young I would always help my mother in the kitchen with cakes, biscuits, jams - absolutely anything I could get my hands on.
I've also been fortunate enough to work alongside some of the world's best chefs and many of them were French such as Joel Robouchon and Pierre Koffman. They have both been real inspirations to my cooking and certainly have influenced my style.
As head chef, you describe yourself as only one cog and that it's the whole team that makes the clock tick. How do you cultivate the right team approach?
The most difficult thing about being a head chef is letting go and giving others the responsibility. You need to be able to show them that you trust in what they are doing which in turn gives them confidence to grow and develop. As I said I am only one person in the make-up of the restaurant because many run it and every one of them is very important to consistency and quality of service and food, hence why a good team is vital.
Have you found a way to encourage diners to choose courses that create the right tempo, that complement each other perfectly, or is that only achievable with a tasting menu?
Dining should be like a story in that it should be experienced at your own pace. I don't think that necessarily means that you need to choose the tasting menu in order to achieve this.
We've developed a menu that allows you to have the Tom Aikens Restaurant experience whether you order the set lunch menu, three courses à la carte or opt for a seven-course tasting menu!
What three secrets can you share for when it comes to putting together a tasting menu in your kitchen?
That the menu is seasonal first and foremost! Then each course must complement one another in its totality. And finally, that it's exciting and delicious.
If there was one ingredient you probably reach for most often when you're creating a new dish, what is it?
I have always loved beetroot because it is so adaptable - it works in a wide range of dishes including soups, salads and dressings. I've experimented with pickling, baking, pureeing, dressings, jellies and meringues. They generally lend themselves to something sweet because of their high natural sugar content and I thought that this would be perfect for a dessert. I thought that beetroot typically goes so well with yoghurt and that's how the idea of the Candied Beetroot dish got started.
Tom Aikens' restaurant has been open for 13 years now and you did a complete refurbishment last year - how important are the finishing touches?
I'm very much about a full restaurant experience so we ensured that the redesign of the restaurant would complement the dishes. We put a lot of thought into each element and worked very closely with Hakan Ezer, an Istanbul designer, to transform the interior of the restaurant to a calming and welcoming retreat with oak floors, bespoke wooden chairs and bare oak tables.
Why do you think the market for the 'familiar and comforting' is particularly strong at the moment?
I think it's because more and more people are cooking these days then ever before and they want dishes that are accessible and won't take a whole day to cook a single course. "The most difficult thing about being a head chef is letting go and giving others the responsibility."
Your recipes for desserts in 'Easy' include Prune and Armagnac Brioche Pudding and Caramel Mousse.
What is the key to simplicity in your recipes? Is it in the technique, preparation or the ingredients?
Step-by-step procedures are vital in ensuring that a recipe is simply followed without any complications or misunderstandings.
Also never have too many ingredients or a variety of cooking methods that can misguide you. Then lastly don't make the recipes too long. Where do you see the restaurant industry moving in terms of new trends in 2014?
So much has been done and re-done these days. I am not one for following trends. I've always been a supporter of using only the finest seasonal ingredients, supporting local suppliers and I'm a huge advocate of sustainable fishing and sustainability issues. We've seen a big move towards locally sourced ingredients and local suppliers which is very positive and I can only hope that we continue to become more conscious of what we are eating and where it is coming from.
"I've been fortunate enough to work alongside some of the world's best chefs and many of them were French..."
Tom's slow-braised shoulder of lamb with onions, thyme and balsamic
This hearty lamb shoulder recipe, with its creamy mashed potato pairing, makes a wonderful and rustic lamb dinner. Slowly braising the lamb in a rich sauce ensures that the meat's full, immense flavour is drawn out.
You can either slice or shred the meat from the bone to serve.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
- Rub the shoulder of lamb with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place a little more olive oil into the bottom of a large casserole pot with the onions and thyme, sit the lamb on top. Place into the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the lamb and onions have coloured. Remove the pot from the oven.
Turn the oven down to 110°C.
- Add eight sprigs of thyme and the garlic to the dish, cover and cook for approximately five hours. After five hours, remove the garlic and onions from the pot and reserve. Add the balsamic vinegar, remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 1ó hours, basting the shoulder in the vinegar every 20 minutes.
- Between bastings, prepare the mashed potato. Cut potatoes into 2 inch pieces and rinse in cold water. Place in a pan with water and a handful of salt. Place over the heat and bring to a slow simmer for 25-35 minutes, until they are just tender and drain. Place the potatoes into a mouli with the butter and grind into a bowl. Place the mixture back into the pan, add the remaining salt, pepper and warm milk, stir until smooth. Keep warm while you finish the lamb.
- Transfer the pan with the lamb from the oven and place over a low heat (on the hob) to reduce any excess liquid. Baste the lamb in the liquid as you reduce. Add the onions and garlic back to the pan for 10 minutes to reheat and add the reserved onions and garlic to the pan.
To serve, cut the braised lamb into four portions. Serve with the onions, garlic and mash.
Tom's lamb recipe is from his book 'Easy'. For your chance to win one of two copies see Country Club on page 29.
"Slowly braising the lamb in a rich sauce ensures that the meat's full, immense flavour is drawn out."
Article taken from November 2013 issue of Stir it up magazine. Get your copy here