This chef conveys his passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients at the Michelin-starred restaurant that he runs in partnership with his wife
James honed his skills as a chef while working at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Noma, The Ledbury and Per Se. He, along with his sommelier wife Sandia, set up Bubbledogs – an informal champagne and hotdogs bar – in 2014 in Fitzrovia, London. Soon after they opened Kitchen Table behind it, which is now a Michelin-starred restaurant.
You’ve worked with some amazing chefs in the past – what was the most important thing you took away from those experiences?
Every chef I have worked with has taught me different things that I have now implemented in my own restaurant. Thomas Keller taught me to strive for perfection and work with finesse. Rene Redzepi taught me about cooking with nature, foraging and keeping food simple and pure.
What made you decide to open a chef ’s table dining room style of restaurant, Kitchen Table, with just 19 seats?
I was inspired by Japanese restaurants and the sushi bar. I loved the idea that when you get an ‘omakase’ meal, the chef essentially just cooks for you with the best ingredients they have and prepares it in front of you. I thought, why couldn’t we do this with Western food – cook the best dishes with the best ingredients for all the diners every night? I also wanted to be able to convey the passion from farmers to butchers to the guests. Sometimes I feel like no matter how great a waiter may be, they will never be able to explain a dish the same way as a chef can.
Do you feel more pressure when cooking in front of the diners?
No, but it is harder when you know there is no room for error. Everything is live and there are no retakes.
How involved are you when it comes to choosing produce?
Throughout the day I’m on the phone to suppliers, butchers, farmers etc. talking about what’s the best veg at the moment, what meat is ageing and ready to eat, what fish was landed on the day, and so on. Then at the end of dinner service, my team and I write the menu for the next day based on those converstations. All these will get sent in first thing the next morning.
What would you say is the best thing about owning your own restaurant?
No one tells me what to cook.
How did you meet your wife Sandia and what led to you working together?
Sandia and I met while working at Per Se in New York under Thomas Keller. Ever since then, we’ve pretty much always worked together. Because of our similar training, we have the same philosophy on standards and ways of working. She is my balance. All of my weaknesses are her strengths.
What appliance do you find the most useful?
At home it’s our Cuisinart kettle, for all those comforting cups of tea. At work it is our salamander grill.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully with another few restaurants or other projects but I will always be cooking at Kitchen Table every night.
Photos by: David Loftus
Article by: EKBB