Lee Westcott fell into a career in cooking after taking a job as a kitchen porter at an English country pub near his home town of Stevenage. He enjoyed the kitchen environment, and seeing the passion and drive of the chefs made him excited about the prospect of cooking. He says from then on it was all he thought about and he started cooking professionally with thoughts of opening his own restaurant firmly in mind. He still cites this formative job as his greatest inspiration.
He quickly moved onto working in Michelin-starred kitchens, and in the early part of his career held positions at The Savoy Grill and Galvin at Windows, both in London. He also undertook stages at some of the world’s finest restaurants, with stints at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, New York (three stars), René Redzepi’s Noma, Copenhagen (two stars) and Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s (two stars) under his belt. He was particularly inspired by Redzepi’s approach to food, saying the kitchen there valued ingredients more than anywhere else he’s worked and he saw a whole different perspective on the craft of cooking. At Per Se, he learnt a more militaristic style of kitchen management, in place for the execution of impeccable food, and says it taught him a different level of self-discipline.
In 2009, with a keen interest in the food of Tom Aikens, he undertook a stage at Aikens’ eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant. Impressed with what he saw, Aikens asked if he was interested in a new challenge and offered him a role. Working for four years with the chef, he describes his time in one of the most exciting kitchens in London as ‘thrilling’ and credits Aikens with being a huge inspiration – then and now.
For the last two years of his time with Aikens, he worked as head chef, taking on the position as the restaurant reopened after extensive refurbishment. In preparation for the more informal style of dining that was planned, he and his mentor developed new dishes that reflected this change, as well as Aikens’ creativity and attention to detail. He describes his time at the restaurant as hugely challenging and says he was thrown in the deep end in this role, but learned an enormous amount as he went.
Typical dishes at Tom Aikens Restaurant included starters such as Marinated hand-dived scallops with apple tapioca, green apple jelly, discs of green apple and tarragon granite, or for mains, Cod with chorizo tartare, 24-hour squid, cod soup, chorizo fritter, crispy cod skin and young basil leaves – both dishes showing Aikens’ signature treatments of one ingredient, multiple ways.