The next few years I’m not going to take my foot off the pedal,” Tom Aikens says with determination in every syllable.
With his time already split between four restaurants in Canary Wharf, St Katharine Docks, Somerset House and Chelsea and plans to open his first UK restaurant outside of London in Birmingham later this year and a deli in Dubai, there is plenty of ground for him to cover.
So how does he push himself?
“I’m very competitive with myself for sure,” said Tom. “I always like to try to be better than last year and improve something. I’m my own worst enemy.”
He is talking about his love of marathons at the time – he does at least two a year and has even undertaken a ultra marathon in the Sahara. “I switch off completely when I’m running. It is a good way to mull things over.”
But it is clear this single-minded philosophy is one that translates to his business life.
“I just keep my nose down and focus. I have a very good team. The hours are a bit unsociable but you have to be willing to make sacrifices. The catering industry is about what you are willing to put in.”
In between his hectic work schedule, which starts at 6.30am, and training each day for an hour, Tom has found time to create a special four-course menu for the launch of the Totally Thames festival on Thursday, September 1, a month long celebration of life along the river.
He will be serving up Devonshire crab, blackened chicken breast apple and vanilla panna cotta and a cheese board at his St Katharine Docks restaurant , now in its second year.
“It is still fairly new and the business is growing steadily,” said the chef. “The crowd there is very different from Canary Wharf where it is focussed on being as quick as possible for lunch and dinner. We have a much bigger deli so the grab and go selection is bigger.
“Here it is nice being on the river as people like to chill out here and relax. You can watch life go by.”
This contrast seems to echo through Tom’s own life, which has seen more than its fair share of highs and lows.
Aged 26, the tempestuous chef was running the kitchen at Pied à Terre when he became the youngest British chef to achieve two Michelin stars. But he fell from grace over an allegation that he branded a trainee’s hand with a hot palette knife.
Just a few years later in 2003 he was opening the first of several venues in Chelsea but by 2008 had put two restaurants into administration, leaving suppliers out of pocket.
But he bounced back again, opening a 130-seater restaurant in Canary Wharf in June 2013 and the Wapping site in 2014 and he also has sites in Istanbul and HMS Belfast.
Perhaps he has found a calm thanks to partner Justine and their two children aged two and four. There is a distinct softening in his voice when he speaks of family life.
“Having two daughters is highly recommended,” said the 46-year-old.
“My four-year-old loves cooking. She is mixing and baking and stirring. She likes gingerbread men, I don’t know if that’s to do with my red hair. But she doesn’t like eating them. She will just let them go stale. She just loves cooking, it’s so sweet.”
So perhaps the future holds a father-daughter restaurant but for now Tom seems to have found his happy pace.
“My career, I’m very happy with and going forward it’s about growing organically and just seeing what happens next.”
The Totally Thames Festival dinner will take place at Tom’s Kitchen St Katharine Docks on Thursday, September 1, from 7pm with pairing wines and a performance by Peter Werth’s Jazz Crew. Tickets are £70 with £2 donated to the Thames Festival Trust.
Totally Thames takes place throughout September with a programme of 150 events including a Tall Ships Cruise in Greenwich and Bascule Chamber Concerts at Tower Bridge.
Tom is also part of the London Restaurant Festival which runs throughout October.