Chef Aidan on his passion for sustainability and permaculture in every aspect of his cooking
Tell us your foodie story. How did you get into cooking?
I first decided I wanted to be a chef when I was 8 years old. As a child I was incredibly non-conformist and actually quite disobedient, so my decision to become a chef was probably to rebel against my parents’ expectations of me going to university. When I was 14, my parents said I could pursue my dream as long as I had decent marks in school so that I’d have something to fall back on if cooking wasn’t for me after all. While I was still at school, I started at the Junior Chef’s Academy and enrolled at Westminster Kingsway College straight out of school. In 2007, I graduated with my Professional Chef Diploma and moved to Barcelona to begin my career. And the rest, as they say, is history…
When did you start hosting with Eatwith?
I started hosting private events on Eatwith not so long ago. As my working relationship with the Eatwith Community Team developed, it has become more and more apparent just how much potential there is for us to grow together. I’ve recently signed up to become an Eatwith Exclusive Host, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how our project Eleven98 can blossom into a real long-term partnership.
What do you love about hosting private events?
I find the main difference between hosting open dinners and private events is the dynamic at the dining table. For social dining experiences, most of the guests don’t know each other before sitting down for dinner together, but with private events, it’s generally a group of friends or colleagues celebrating a special occasion so everyone is ready to jump right in from the get-go.
What is your favorite cuisine and why?
That’s a tough one! It’s a question I’m often asked, and I frequently find myself giving a different answer depending on how I’m feeling at the time. I could probably narrow it down to three cuisines. Growing up in Hackney I was exposed to a lot of Turkish and Caribbean culture, and therefore their respective cuisines were always something I was familiar with and would eat regularly during my childhood. These two cuisines are where I seek comfort, whereas Japanese food is where I seek challenge. The sheer precision as well as the respect for their produce are two things I’ve always admired about the Japanese approach to food, and some of my most memorable eating experiences have been the most simple — a sashimi of squid and fatty tuna belly with sea urchin and ponzu sauce or a nigiri of red prawn with the tiniest dab of freshly grated wasabi. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!
What feeling do you want people to take away after tasting your food?
I want my guests to know that the meal they’ve eaten is truly unique, because the produce on the menu simply can’t be found anywhere else. There’s no other culinary experience that offers an entire tasting menu exclusively sourced from within one London borough. Every day I source produce from Hackney and collect everything personally on my bike, which not only means I get to see and speak with the producers and purveyors but also helps to reduce the carbon footprint of everything that goes onto the guests’ plates. I also try to upcycle food as much as possible — for instance, I always save any bread left over after each evening and will dehydrate it to use as breadcrumbs. Rather than compromising by using mass-produced produce, I source and preserve absolutely everything I can while it’s at its peak, and can then use pickles, fermentations, dehydrated products, jams, jellies and other preserved items all year round.
I work extremely hard to source, cultivate or forage my ingredients — so I try to convey that sense of pride and appreciation to the guests throughout the evening with little anecdotes about the story of the produce and the people who grow it. I once had a guest say to me at the end of the meal: “Wow, so that’s what tomatoes are supposed to taste like”. That’s my all-time favorite comment and that’s the feeling I want my guests to leave with.
Is there any exciting projects that you want to share with us?
On Thursday, 21 March, we’re launching a brand new dining concept, which will be open to the public on a weekly basis. The Chef’s Table is our flagship social fine dining where up to 12 guests can enjoy a truly intimate and immersive Eleven98 experience. Join us at our beautiful Hackney apartment in the heart of Lauriston Village, and take a seat at the communal table in the open kitchen and dining space so you can watch your tasting menu being prepared right in front of your eyes. You’ll be able to smell the enticing aromas of our Hackney-sourced produce from your seat! With only 12 seats at The Chef’s Table, this really is the most exclusive way to experience my Hackney cuisine!
Ready to join Aidan at The Chef’s Table? Book your seat here or check out his other upcoming events here.