INTERVIEW: Tom Aikens, Owner of the Mailbox’s Tom’s Kitchen.
Founded by one of the UK’s most acclaimed and inspirational award-winning chefs, Tom Aikens, Tom’s Kitchen Birmingham opened as a restaurant, bar and deli at the Mailbox in December.
The arrival of Tom’s Kitchen is a welcome addition to the Mailbox’s already bustling and wide ranging portfolio of restaurant and lifestyle brands.
Claire Fry talks to Michelin star chef Tom Aikens, Owner of the Mailbox’s Tom Kitchen to find out where it all began and the expansion of the business.
When did you first get into food?
My father bought an old barn in a tiny little hamlet right the heart of Auvergne. We would go every summer and occasionally on Easter breaks. It was in an amazing spot, on the top of the hills over-looking a great lake. We had a couple of huge walnut trees in the garden, as well as a damson tree and in the lead up to summer, the grass would be littered with fields of wild strawberries, where we would just sit and
stuff our faces in the sunshine. We would get fresh cow’s milk in the morning from our neighbours: rich warm milk with your cornflakes in the morning, with all that sickly cream on top, was sublime. All these food experiences, as well as all the amazing food markets we would go to in the region, must have set me on my way to becoming a chef.
Did you start cooking when you were young?
I have cooked for as long as I can remember; probably the age of 8 or so. My twin brother and I were always helping out in the kitchen with my mother. She would involve us in making cakes and home baking. We were always on hand to lick out the cake mix left in the bottom of the bowl. I have a great
memory of her making milk bread, 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 I got to learn about seasonality and how to grow and cook great produce. We grew lots of soft fruits from strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries and so on which were mostly turned into jams and stored in a large larder full of things that we’d made.
Tell us about your first job working in a kitchen?
Joel Robuchon and Pierre Koffman both contributed very much to making me the Chef I am today. Working in their kitchen was not easy, that’s for sure, but that’s probably where I learnt the most. From discipline, to solidarity and cooking techniques.
Who, or what, inspires you?
My inspirations are…. some of the world’s best chefs. Many of them were French such as Joel Robouchon and Pierre Koffman. They have both been real inspirations in my cooking and certainly have influenced my style. 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.
What was your motivation to go from one Tom’s Kitchen to expanding the brand across the World?
I love to open new restaurants as it is always a different adventure and a great challenge. Expanding abroad is also a lot of fun as you get to discover a new environment, new produce, new tastes, which are all very good inputs to my cooking style. I want the quality of all my restaurants to remain at the top level so of course there needs to be a limit to this growth as I like to be involved in all aspects of the project which is very time consuming.
What made you choose Birmingham as a location?
Birmingham is a vibrant and bustling city with a thriving food scene. There is already a wonderful array of restaurants in the city, and I believe that Tom’s Kitchen adds to that and offers an exciting new option for diners in The Mailbox. Birmingham has really developed over the last few years and with the HS2 line and HSBC moving to the city, things can only get bigger and better.
What is the best advice you have ever been told and what advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
You can’t say yes to everything, it’s impossible. I am an active chef who is always on the go and full of ideas, but sometimes you have to realise when an opportunity just isn’t worth taking and that it’s healthy to let yourself breathe. For me my family always come first, even if that means saying no to something else.
When you aren’t running your restaurants, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love sport and it gives me freedom away from the hustle and bustle of work. I run every day which helps to focus and stimulate the mind. Giving myself time to work out, refresh and just be is very tough but investing in this has such a positive impact on my life. Time is a luxury that many of us don’t have so if I’m out running I will usually think about recipe development or my little girl Violette. A chef’s mind never stops churning over ideas!
As the first UK Tom’s Kitchen venture outside of London, Tom’s Kitchen Birmingham offers all-day dining, seven days a week, and serves British favourites and comfort food classics in a relaxed and informal setting. There are also be a range of private and semi-private spaces, perfect for parties and events.
53/57 Wharfside Street,
Tel. 0121 289 5111