Alex Aitken has worked at various restaurants around the Southampton area throughout his career. After moving back to the UK from Singapore where his dad worked as a chief technician for the RAF, Aitken started as a waiter in his teenage years at a restaurant Greenways in Romsey while studying at Mountbatten School. He would spend summers in Scotland while visiting family and where he would work on a trawler earning £300 a week fishing.
“I was I was a boy, and amongst men, though I was a big lad, I loved it,” he said.
After that, he worked as a waiter at Potters Heron Hotel, and he then went on to be a catering manager at Silhouette Casino at St Michale’s Square in Southampton.
He then settled at Le Chanteclerc in Cadnam where he started as a waiter and went on to become a restaurant manager.
It was then in 1983, with no chef experience that he opened his first restaurant, Le Poussin on Brookley Road in Brockenhurst, with only two cookbooks.
Alex said: “It was a leap of faith or stupidity.
“Luckily, it ended up being a leap. I remember people walking past the door saying, this won’t last.”
With his wife Caroline at the front of the house and Alex cooking, the customers kept coming back for the food.
However, due to the recession, he sold 80 per cent of the restaurant area, keeping only the kitchen and part of the restaurant – but that did not stop the couple from earning a Michelin star.
He said: “I was shocked when I got the call, at the time it was mind-blowing, insane. It was very hard work. The hard work starts again because you knew you have to work hard to keep it.”
The chef-turned-business owner went to move Le Poussin from Brockenhurst into Parkhill, a three-star hotel in Lyndhurst which he bought with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and won another Michelin star.
Later he sold his share of the business and now the 65-year-old focuses most of his attention on The Jetty restaurants as Chef Patron at the Christchurch and Ocean Village arms of the Harbour Hotels group, of which he sits on the Executive Committee
He held his 40-year career anniversary dinner at the Jetty in Southampton on Wednesday and entertained guests.
He said: “Doing events I always get quite nervous because I want it to be perfect.
“(The) event being all about me makes me even more, but in a very good way. The adrenaline will be used well and it’s great to be spending this evening with people who have known me for so long, some even for more than 40 years.”
The 65-year-old believes the good food combined with the good service is what has attracted customers to the eatery and gets people to come back.
He added: “I think if we were just serving good food, we’d be okay. If we were good service, we’d be okay.
“But if you put great food, great service, and great value – doesn’t mean it has to be cheap, but it has to be value – people naturally come back.”