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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Tom Aikens

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Tom Aikens

Overall ranking: 89 (ranked 94 in 2010)

Chef ranking: 31 (ranked 29 in 2010)

Tom Aikens is a Michelin-starred chef who combines a bad-boy image with a reputation for original, subtle and intense cuisine. He has suffered from business administration and closures but continues to win accolades for his cooking.

Tom Aikens - Career guide

Tom Aikens began his career at the Mirabelle restaurant in Eastbourne before joining the Michelin-starred Cavalier's restaurant in Battersea, London, as a commis chef.

He moved to London's Capital hotel under Michelin-starred head chef Phillip Britten and was working as chef de partie at Pierre Koffmann's La Tante Claire in London when the restaurant won its third Michelin star.

In 1993 Tom Aikens became sous chef at Pied Á Terre in London. After working at the three-Michelin-starred JoÁ«l Robuchon in Paris and Gerard Boyer's Les Crayères in Reims, he returned to run Pied Á Terre in 1996, where he held on to the two Michelin stars earned by his predecessor, Richard Neat.

He left under a cloud in 1999 for an incident involving a burning-hot palette knife, spending eight months as head chef at La Tante Claire before working as a private chef for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lord and Lady Bamford. He opened the restaurant Tom Aikens in London's Elystan Street in April 2003 in partnership with his then wife, Laura.

In November 2006 Aikens expanded for the first time, opening Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea's Cale Street, with highly regarded French chef Ollie Couillaud recruited to head up the kitchen. It proved an immediate success, and Aikens made plans to open a second Tom's Kitchen by 2010, but scrapped this idea in 2008 due to the recession.

Aikens's third venture was an eco-friendly fish and chip shop, Tom's Place, also in Cale Street, which opened in February 2008. He was forced to close the doors after a dispute with the local authority over the smell created by waste from the kitchen.

In October 2008 Tom's Kitchen and Tom Aikens went into administration, but re-emerged under a new holding company with Aikens remaining in the kitchen after going through a pre-pack administration.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Aikens has teamed up with a new investor, the Istanbul Doors Restaurant Group, and will relaunch his flagship restaurant later this year, in effect seizing control of his personal destiny once again.

Tom Aikens - What we think

For a number of years Tom Aikens was arguably better known for his involvement in an incident involving a hot palette knife than his undoubted cooking skills - he was the youngest chef to pick up two Michelin stars - but the launch of his eponymous restaurant in 2003 saw the tide turning firmly in his favour. He picked up three awards in 2003 and then an astonishing 18 accolades in 2004. The restaurant won a Michelin star in January, four AA rosettes, an 8/10 grading in the Good Food Guide and three stars in Egon Ronay's revived restaurant guide for 2005.

Aikens also racked up numerous "best restaurant", "best newcomer" and "excellence" awards from the likes of the Good Food Guide, Harpers and MoÁ«t, the Craft Guild of Chefs, Harden's Rémy and Decanter/Laurent-Perrier - including the Catey Newcomer Award.

The success of Tom Aikens was always likely to spawn sister restaurants, and Tom's Kitchen launched to critical acclaim in 2006. However, attempts to open new sites were stymied by the recession and, in the case of a fish and chip restaurant, a dispute with neighbours.

Aikens was mired in further controversy in October 2008 when his restaurant business went through a prepack administration, meaning it could continue to trade, but leaving suppliers out of pocket by an estimated £1m.

It left a bitter taste in the mouth of many suppliers, but Aikens has lived to tell the tale, and the two restaurants continue to win plaudits.

In 2010 he joined forces with Compass Group to launch two restaurants at London venue Somerset House. The chef has taken over the existing Admiralty restaurant and River Terrace Café at the 18th-century building and relaunched them as Tom's Kitchen and Tom's Terrace respectively.

If 2008 was the flame-haired chef's annus horribilis then 2011 is full of promise with new investment set to put Aikens back in creative control of his business with his Tom's Kitchen offer finally set to fulfil its long-held promise and become a small chain taking on the likes of Jamie Oliver in the premium casual dining sector.

Tom Aikens' ranking in the 2010 Caterersearch.com 100 >>

Michelin-starred Tom Aikens to reopen Tom's Terrace >>

Tom Aikens: A Minute on the Clock >>

Michelin-starred Tom Aikens receives cash injection to expand >>

Tom Aikens website >>

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