November 28, 2022

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times)

Published: Monday, November 7, 2022, 5:43 p.m

Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens is enamored with Abu Dhabi’s dining scene, which he says is rapidly evolving. Running three restaurants at the Abu Dhabi EDITION Hotel, he has ensured that each one stands out from what is available in the capital.

The 52-year-old has had an incredible career. At 26, he became the youngest British chef ever to receive two Michelin stars. And today he is one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs who can boast of working for David Cavalier’s in Battersea, Pierre Koffman’s La Tante Claire, Pied à Terre and Joel Robuchon in Paris.

“I have an official contract with the Abu Dhabi EDITION Hotel since 2018 when we opened until the end of the year. And I basically handle three restaurants: Market, Alba Terrace and Oak Room,” he said.

Market is a healthy lifestyle restaurant that offers cuisine focused on fresh and organic ingredients, vegan brunches, juices and more to enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere. Alba Terrace is a Mediterranean restaurant with an à la carte menu, the best locally sourced coffee, social lunch for business and leisure, sharing plates, etc. The Oak Room, where this interview was conducted, combines premium dining experience with British rock and roll flair in elegant style. interiors.

“I come three times a year. I do activations. I’m making some menu changes and things like that,” said Aikens, who is the hotel’s chef partner.

Prior to his association with the hotel, Aikens had been to Abu Dhabi in 2015 and is impressed with how the capital’s restaurant scene has evolved.

“My impression has changed. The first time I came here was in 2015. Since then I have seen it become more and more popular. I saw more people coming to explore from Dubai. The other day I had a table of six who just came to my dinner from Dubai. So it’s nice to see people coming to Abu Dhabi to see what else is going on here. And I’ve won quite a few awards with Oak Room every year from various different publications. It was great for the restaurant, the hotel and to attract more people to Abu Dhabi.”

During each visit to Abu Dhabi, Aikens makes it a point to collaborate with a local chef.

“For me, as a chef, it has always been interesting to work in different countries and to approach (the job) with a curious mind. As chefs, we would like to try and learn new things in terms of cooking or appreciating different products, as well as working with chefs locally. I’ve done quite a few pop-ups and things with Chef Mohamad Orfali and dinner with Chef Faisal Nasser, who also works in the city. It’s nice to be able to do collaborations like this with chefs, which helps strengthen my bond with local chefs and also to help advertise what we’re doing here.”

Asked about his favorite Emirati dish, the British chef found it difficult to choose just one.

“It’s hard to say to be honest. Whenever I come, I try to go to the local restaurants. But most of the time when I come, I’m stuck in the hotel, working. I don’t get to explore as much as I like. That’s why I also try to collaborate with some local chefs. We have dinner together to see what they’re up to and to socialize as well.”

It all started with the help of my mother

Aikens has a very interesting story about how he became a chef. As children, Aikens along with his twin brother Robert used to help their mother. Those days of cooking at home and helping his mother weigh and measure things were the steps Aikens took to become a chef. Family meals were also prepared from home-grown fruit and vegetables in Norfolk County, which gave him an idea of ​​how the weather and changing seasons were important in growing food.

Spending a summer vacation in France sparked his interest in the local culture and cuisine. On one such trip, his father accidentally made a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant. But that evening, a young Aikens had the most extraordinary meal. That’s when he found his life’s purpose: to become a chef. In 1986, he joined a catering college in Norwich. Later, he worked in restaurants in London and Paris. He currently manages the Michelin-starred Muse in London and the three restaurants in Abu Dhabi.

At 26, when he was head chef at French company Pied à Terre, the restaurant won two Michelin stars and became the youngest British chef to achieve such recognition.

Asked about the pressure of expectations, Aikens said, “There’s always pressure. And that amount of pressure is pretty intense. I guess when you’re 26 there are more expectations. When you’re young, you take a lot more to heart because you’re not, I think, maturely, able to understand things more logically. But, yes, it was amazing at that time and age to have such an honor. It obviously took a lot of hard work to achieve that as well.”

Aikens said those who miss out on awards should not be discouraged, but keep trying.

“I think getting awards is always a great honor, even to be nominated. Sometimes you get nominated, but you don’t always win. But even to be nominated, you have to be in the top category. So it’s always good to know what your restaurant is about, the message and the story you’re trying to tell, and make sure all the people are working for you. And also that you’re telling the right story and the right message. The reason people come is because the product you serve, they know, is of a very high standard. And the people who provide the service provide the best. So it’s a whole team effort. It’s not just about me, it’s about everyone who works behind (the scenes).”

And for aspiring chefs, Aikens’ advice is to have a clear end goal in mind.

“You have to have an idea of ​​what you want to do in your career. Being a chef or being in hospitality is very rewarding. There are a lot of different aspects that are really positive. I think in terms of going into the industry, you have to have an end goal of what you want to do – where you’re going in terms of the end of the road; do you want to be a chef, run your own restaurant, etc.”

Over the years, Aikens opened Tom’s Kitchen in London, The Pawn in Hong Kong, and in 2015 launched his first Middle Eastern restaurant – Pots, Pans & Boards, in Dubai.

“So it’s very important that everyone has the goal of the trip they want to take. Because if you don’t realize what your ultimate dream is, then you’re going to be on a long road for a long time. So it’s always important to see where you’re going and get as much experience as you can by working in other restaurants and making sure you learn as much as you can from as many different people as you can. It’s always a good thing. The more people you work for, the more things you see, the more things you learn, and also understand how to manage things.”

Last month, Aikens was part of a breast cancer awareness charity drive in the city. And look forward to the launch of the Abu Dhabi Michelin Guide on Thursday.

“It’s great that Michelin is coming to Abu Dhabi. My chefs will go to the unveiling. It will be great to see if anything happens. We will see.”

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