Tom Aikens: bad timing

In October 2007, I was commission by Food Arts magazine in New York to write a profile of Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens. The idea was to chart Aikens' growth not only as a chef but as a business man too. At the time, Aikens not only had his eponymous flagship restaurant and the more casual Tom's Kitchen, but was about to open his upmarket fish and chip restaurant Tom's Place and was supplying Selfridges foodhall with a range of traiteur foods. A second branch of Tom's Kitchen had been mooted for Canary Wharf.

The research for the article turned out to be a protracted business and included a 90 minute interview with Aikens plus three hours stood at the pass in Restaurant Tom Aikens observing a hectic lunchtime service to get a feel for Aikens style both on the plate and in the kitchen. When the opening date for Tom's Place was put back from late 2007 to February 2008, I had to miss my original December deadline (Tom's Place was to be central to the feature as it was to be run in the march 2008 seafood themed edition of the magazine). I then interviewed Aikens a second time once the fish and chip restaurant had launched, and by that time had eaten in all of Aiken's restaurants several times.

So it was with no little pride and some relief when I finally submitted my lengthy, and very well researched copy to my editor Jim Poris. Then, on the day the magazine was due to go to press (the day before the Labour Day public holiday no less) the story broke of the closure of Tom's Place.

As long as Aikens had plans to re-open Tom's Place at some point in the future, the story could go ahead with a few minor tweaks. But to my astonishment Aiken's people advised us that there were no such plans, that the concept would not be revived elsewhere so at the very last moment, the story had to be pulled for a major re-write. Then later in the year when Aiken's financial woes really began to kick in, the story was dead in the water. Aikens was no longer the up and coming business man and my lovingly complied profile looked hopelessly dated.

In the end, the story was completely re-written as a piece on fish and chips and broadened to include other big name UK chefs serving the dish. It finally appeared in the March 2009 edition of the magazine.

As the commissioned work has now been published, I have decided to post the full original text here. Although much of it is out of date and only of historical interest, it does capture something of Aikens as a cook and a person, so has some intrinsic value. The quote from Aikens that I chose to close the article with now seems scarily prophetic.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it (or hopefully a great deal more - the process was not without it frustrations on a number of levels).


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