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1 on 1: Tom Aikens, The Abu Dhabi Edition.

by Lucas Raven

While staying at The Abu Dhabi Edition, I bumped into one of our generation’s most inspiring chefs, Tom Aikens, and had the chance to ask him a few questions:

What inspires you everyday?

I’ve 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. I also admire chefs like Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and the Roux brothers. Not only have they revolutionised the industry with their cooking, but they are also great businessmen. My mother was also a great influencer of mine. She was a great home cook, so from a young age, I would try to help my mother in the kitchen with making basic cakes, biscuits, jams – anything I could get my hands on.

Describe The Abu Dhabi Edition in 3 words:

Unique. Intimate. Exclusive.

What’s your signature dish?

The menus in Market are broken down into 3 menus: Breakfast ,where you have all the healthy drinks and smoothies, juices ect like the Super Charged Cold Coffee with Almond Milk, Lucuma Reishi, Chaga or the COCO VERDE with Spinach, Pineapple, Apricot, Kale, Coconut, Cucumber, from the healthy selection of dishes you have Bircher Muesli, Grated Apple, Walnuts, Raisins at 40 dirhams , Acai Super Fruit Bowl with Banana, Coconut Shavings, Goji Berries at 40 dirhams or the Mezze Breakfast at 80 dirhams which has Baked Sumac Egg, Raita, Peppers, Feta, Baba Ghanoush, Mechouja, and Avocado.

The favourite egg dish of mine is the Buckwheat & Wholemeal Crepe, Swiss Cheese, Spinach and Ricotta, Fried Egg, Pumpkin Seeds. We then at Market have a lunch ALC which has different dishes than the dinner time, so expect things like Buddha bowls and salads a dish like SPROUTS OF LIFE at 60 dirhams that has in it Shio Koji, Cucumber, Pumpkin Seed Furikake, Edamame, Dashi Mayo, Wakame Salad. Grated slaw mineral overload Mixed Heritage Carrots, Sun Courgette, Napa Cabbage, Lime & Chili Peanut & a Herb & Lime Vinaigrette , and the lovely king Kale salad of Asian Kale Crisps, Russian Kale, Shitake, Roast Broccoli, Mange Tout, Soy & Ginger Dressing.

There is also a poke bowl section and then a selection of main courses like our Green Earth burger which is a Chickpea and Shitake Burger, Aubergine Relish, Muhammara, Halloumi or the Pizza Alive with Chia Seed pizza base with a Walnut Ricotta, Grilled Piquillo Pepper, Grated Courgette.

From Alba terrace, here are my favourites: Bream ceviche, Mediterranean salad, fried calamari, lamb cutlets, beef ragu and prawn courgette risotto, for desserts: the tarte tropizanne, baked cheesecake and the pavlova!

Where did you begin your culinary journey?

For as long as I can remember – probably the age of 8 or so – my twin brother and I would help my mother out in the kitchen. She would involve us in making cakes and home baking, or just weighing things out – 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! I have a very real memory of her making milk bread. Sometimes I think it was just a dream as the smell was so incredible.

Living in Norfolk we had a large back garden where we grew a lot of our own fruit and vegetables; so from an early age I understood a little about seasonality and that great produce does not grow all year around, but is very much predicted by the weather and season. We grew lots of soft fruits (strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries) for making jam although most often we wanted to see how much my twin and I could stuff into our faces without my mother seeing. There was a lot of “toing and froing” from the garden to the kitchen and back. I loved digging in the garden for fresh vegetables and seeing things grow and come to life, it was a very blissful time. I must have been approximately 13 years old when I seriously decided to become a chef.

I was terrible at school and knew that I did not want to be stuck in an office behind a desk. As a result, I left school at 16 and enrolled at Norwich City College Hotel School, one of the best catering college in the UK. An Advanced Catering Diploma later, I went straight to London and sent my (small) CV to about 30 different hotels and restaurants. Everyone came back with the same answer “sorry not enough experience, try again in three years’ time!”. Finally, David Cavalier was the first one to give me a commis position in his Michelin-starred restaurant in Battersea, London. I had to work for free for the first 6 months before he would give me a job so I had to prove that I was good and hungry enough for it. I then went onto work with a whole host of different chefs in London and France, including Pierre Koffmann in London, Joel Robuchon in Paris and Gerard Boyers in Reims. At the age of 26 I had the great honour to become the youngest British chef to be awarded two Michelin stars.

If your menu was a story book, what kind of story would it be telling?

Evolving, progression and continuous learning.

What’s your favorite dish that’s on the Oak Room menu?

On the oak room attached we are only open in the evening and some of my favorites are the bread as it’s a marmite and treacle sour dough with marmite butter, then on the starters the scallop dish, the beef tartar and the beef consommé, the crab as well is a favorite , then mains the barbecue chicken , the cote de bouef for two, the salt beef sandwich and the glazed short rib….

Describe Oak Room:

A celebration of world class ingredients with British rock ‘n’ roll flair

Name 2 other chefs who inspire you:

Joel Robouchon & Pierre Koffman. They have both been real inspirations to my cooking and certainly have influenced my style.

Your advise to the aspiring chefs out there:

It takes a lot of determination, hard work and self-belief. You have to have a game plan and set 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.

About Tom: 

Tom Aikens is one of the UK’s most acclaimed and inspirational British chefs. With a father working in the wine industry and a childhood mostly spent gardening and cooking with his mother, Tom put food and the use of the finest ingredients at the centre of his life from a very early age. His remarkable career took him to David Cavalier’s in Battersea, Pierre Koffman’s La Tante Claire, Joel Robuchon in Paris, Gerard Boyere’s in Riems and Pied-à-Terre to name a few. It was at the latter that Tom became the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars, at the age of 26.

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