Tom Aikens is one of the UK’s most acclaimed and inspirational British chefs. He has worked with David Cavalier, Pierre Koffman, Joel Robuchon and Gerard Boyer, amongst others. With the latter, Tom became the youngest ever British chef to be awarded two Michelin stars, aged just 26. He went on to open his successful eponymous restaurant Tom Aikens (2003-2014), which received one Michelin star in 2004 and a rising second star in 2008. He has graced our television screens, has restaurants abroad and has published books so we’re delighted he took a little time out to chat family travel with kodomo.com.
Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
My first memories of travel are from when we went to Cornwall as it seemed to take forever to get there. We were in the most beautiful part of Cornwall at Newton Ferrers, Noss Mayo and Salcombe beach. It seemed to take a whole day to get there and we were moaning at how long it was taking. The usual ‘how long do we have to go’ and ‘are we nearly there yet’ were chanted out, much to the frustration of my parents.
I remember it being a very exciting place of mystery and, for the first time, seeing all the bright sea anemones and little crabs in the many rock pools that were strewn along Salcombe beach. It was so exciting just to potter around with a little net, trying to catch anything that moved, seeing all the different coloured seaweeds, and waiting patiently for a shrimp or fish to jump out from the shelter of a loose rock. There is a particular view that takes me right back to childhood going to Newton Ferrers. It was a typically picturesque Devon village with thatched houses and a harbour, known locally as the Pool, and it had a lovely local pub called The Dolphin that used to get packed out in the summer. With my elder brother Mark, and my twin brother Robert, we all used to love this part of the world with its memories of sandcastles and ice cream – the traditional things. My father had a 19-foot long, open sailing boat, a Drascombe Lugger called Sea Lavender, which we would use to go mackerel fishing.
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
I went with my partner Justine to a beautiful place on the Amalfi coast called the Villa Santa Rosa. This was set out to be our first proper romantic getaway since we had a child, so I wanted it to hit all the right notes. As far as the eye can see, coastal roads wind tightly around the Italian coast, beautiful tables are laid out with the best Italian fayre and, of course, there is endless blue sea and sky. The entrance was marked by a discreet tiled sign, “Monastero Santa Rosa.” There was no formal check-in; we were simply greeted with a large welcoming smile by a very smart-looking concierge who immediately served us some fresh lemonade made with lemons picked on the grounds, of course. Its tiered, immaculately groomed gardens on four different levels offered a landscape of lemon and orange trees, herbs of all kinds, roses in bloom and endless walls covered in jasmine. And, of course, the stunning panoramic views over the cliff, overlooking the sea and the horizon, met with an infinity pool like no other. The hotel was acquired some 12 years ago by an American heiress who had seen the monastery from her boat as she was sailing past the Amalfi coast. She had fallen in love with the place and bought it on the spot.
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
We went to the Maldives to an Island called Coconut Palm when our first child Violette was only 6 months old and, being that young, she could cope with the travelling as she slept still most of the time on the plane. We also made use of a Nanny when we were there so we could be guaranteed a proper restful holiday. We were all there for ten days and it was pretty much bliss. Violette was very well-behaved and we all had a great time.
Q: How do you find the experience of travelling with children?
I think that when you are travelling with young kids, the best time to go away is when they are newborn up to nine months and then it becomes a little tougher. We now have two children aged one and a half and three and a half. The one and a half year old is a real nightmare when travelling as she needs constant attention. She will not really sit still for a second and needs constant entertaining. I think she does not like being kept in a seat for more than 15 mins and then she gets restless and starts being tricky, while the other one can have a book or watch a movie and she is fine.
Q. Do you ever travel with your children for work?
No never, as I fly a fair amount and they are long trips. I actually like the side of travelling where I can catch up on work and watch some trashy movies, so I don’t think that will ever change.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
We went to a place called the Royal Palm in Mauritius and it was amazing, I have to say. I went and cooked there and we then had a holiday. So we had a good few days together as a family and got to enjoy the lovely beaches and warm waters. Violette was around two at this stage and she was getting more into swimming. The staff were amazing and the service was impeccable. We had a really nice time as a family and Justine and I got to spend some valuable time together. We managed a few sails out at sea in a small catamaran, which was a lot of fun. I like to be active on holiday and cannot spend more than a few minutes sunbathing.
Q: And your worst?
I would say, to date, we have not had a worst holiday. The only thing recently was when we were travelling this summer, we had a few days in France with the kids and then we went to Ibiza with friends, so we left Marseille airport and went to Barcelona as there were no direct flights and then we went from Barcelona to Ibiza and Vueling airline lost all our luggage. We then had no clothes, apart from what we were wearing, for three days.
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
I-pads to keep them entertained or plenty of games on your phone. All my memory on my phone is taken by Violette and Josephine’s games, so they can play on flights or when travelling .
Q: And top tips for travel with kids?
Always, no matter the flight time, have some food prepared for them so they can snack and Calpol to get them to sleep. If they are under six months, I would keep them on UK time as changing the habits of a baby when they are young is a nightmare to then rectify if they have been on a routine from birth.
I think after 18 months or so then, yes, by all means change the times of sleep and feeding patterns, but be aware of grumpy babies.