When my marriage broke up, Sunday lunch kept me sane

So says double-Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, the latest high-profile restaurateur to join our campaign
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The chef - the youngest to gain two Michelin stars - had been running his restaurant in Chelsea for a year, working 18-hour days. The effort paid off; it was named Restaurateur's Restaurant of the Year, and was awarded a Michelin star. Sadly, it contributed to the decline of his marriage, to fellow restaurateur Laura Vanninen.

"I've sacrificed a lot to get where I am," he said at the time, "and that includes my marriage, I guess. It's nothing that you think would ever happen. It's very sad, you know. The past 10 months have been very emotional for me in lots of different ways."

At this troubled point in his life, still working long hours during the week, Mr Aikens found comfort and support around the table with friends and family during the traditional weekend meal. "Getting together on a Sunday for a meal has definitely been useful in talking things through during difficult periods," Mr Aikens told The Independent on Sunday. "It's just good to communicate with each other and interact."

Mr Aikens, 35, has become the latest high-profile culinary figure to voice his support for our Sunday Lunch campaign. The chef, who is about to open a second restaurant in west London, said the tradition was an important part of British life and should not be allowed to die. In fact, Mr Aikens likes to make Sunday lunch a weekend-long event.

"It all comes down to taking time and making an effort," he said. "I like to go to Borough market and get all the fresh ingredients on a Saturday, and then put it all together leisurely on a Sunday morning. I like a joint of meat that takes a long time to slow roast in the oven, like a shoulder of lamb or pork belly. If you turn the heat right down and cook it for literally eight hours, that gives time for all the fat to soak through the meat, and for the muscles to tenderise, giving it a more intense flavour."

Mr Aikens, whose new restaurant, Tom's Kitchen, will open near his current establishment in Chelsea, west London, this September, said one of the main drives behind the venture was "bringing the Sunday roast, the family meal, into the restaurant". The venue in Chelsea will be "child and dog friendly" and will serve an assortment of roasts on chopping boards, allowing customers to carve their own meat.

Mr Aikens rose to prominence in the mid-1990s, when at the age of 26 he broke Marco Pierre White's record in becoming the youngest chef to receive two Michelin stars, while working at Pied à Terre in London. In 2003, he opened Tom Aikens.

Now he is looking forward to the publication of his first book, Tom Aikens: Cooking, later this year. The book will feature a number of Sunday lunch recipes, including the one reproduced exclusively for IoS readers below.

"Too many people just get a ready-made meal, stick it in the microwave, plonk it on their lap and watch TV. There is no interaction at all," said Mr Aikens.

As recently as a generation ago, British families sat together for a meal nearly every day. Today, a quarter don't even have a dining table, and one in 10 adults admit they do not sit at a table to eat unless they are dining out.

Michel Roux, Jean-Christophe Novelli, Antony Worrall Thompson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Heston Blumenthal have already thrown their weight behind the initiative.

What's the secret of getting people together for Sunday lunch? Each month we will publish your letters with a mouth-watering prize for the best one. Write to: Sunday Lunch Campaign, The Independent on Sunday, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email (subject: Sunday lunch) to sundayletters@independent.co.uk

THE RECIPE

(From 'Tom Aikens: Cooking', to be published by Ebury in October)

ROAST CHICKEN WITH ROAST ARTICHOKES

Ingredients

1.5kg organic chicken

1 small bunch rosemary

2 lemons

200ml olive oil

4g sea salt

1g milled pepper

4 large globe artichokes

Method:

Remove the wishbone. Place the chicken in a cooking tray and smear the oil all over it, inside and out. Squeeze the lemons over and inside the chicken; then put the squeezed halves inside the chicken with the chopped rosemary. Season the chicken inside and out. Peel the artichokes and cut the hearts into sixths. Place the chicken in the oven to cook for 1 hour and 10 minutes, starting at 180C. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 170C and add the artichokes, coating them in the juices. Add the remaining sprigs of rosemary. Cook for another 40 minutes. Leave the chicken to rest for five minutes and check to see if the artichokes are ready - they should be soft and slightly golden.

YOU SAY

In my opinion you can't beat a traditional Sunday roast. But nowadays, youngsters would probably opt for the McDonald's burger version. If that is what they want and would help communication, then I would be all for it. We have fewer family occasions these days so anything that brings families together has to be a blessing.

Mrs Kim Willing, Hornchurch, Essex

I shall be 70 this year and the most enduring memory of my childhood is of weekly Sunday lunch at my grandmother's. Aunt Nell, a war widow who lived on the top floor, would join us and we would all sit round the table for a long time. Every week at the end of the meal, my dad retired to the lavatory so that he could miss helping with the washing-up.

John H Hall, by email

Any culture that promotes the importance of food, and an awareness of its origins, leads to people eating healthily and benefits their local economies. A winning situation all round!

Edward Sweeting, by email

Comments