What inspired you to become a chef?
I always enjoyed cooking as a youngster, usually with my mum. I used to live on a farm, and I’d cook alongside her and my grandma.
As a teenager, I got a job washing up in a local restaurant. I really enjoyed being in the kitchen – probably more than I did going to school! From there, I started doing more prep and went to college, and got into it that way.
Tell us more about your culinary background, where did you train?
Well, I never went down the London route. I started with a few bits of work experience in the city but it wasn’t for me.
Then I started working at a number of places all over the country, before I ended up a few years later down in Worcestershire helping my friend with a gastropub. That’s where I met Kate, my wife, and ended up staying there for four years.I then moved back to Yorkshire to work in The Star Inn at Harome with Andrew Pern. I was Head Chef for a few years, following which we bought the Pipe & Glass. The rest as they say, is history!
It must be very exciting to see the restaurant achieve such great success?
It’s brilliant. It was a big leap to buy the Pipe & Glass. We did what we could with very little money and started off with the premise of doing great food with great Yorkshire hospitality. 13 years later, here we are! We stick to the same premise today.
I started with just a handful of people, flash forward to today and we employ around 50. It’s a big achievement.
It’s crazy really – I look back and it’s a bit like a rollercoaster ride. It’s good at the same time, of course! We’ve tried to keep the same feeling, the same foundation the same.
What can guests expect from a meal when they visit the Pipe & Glass?
Our menus are very seasonal. They’re about quality of ingredients – I’m not one for messing about too much with them.
We try to appeal to a broad audience. I think it’s as important to serve the best steak sandwich as it is the more fine dining dishes. The same goes for beer as it is fine wines. All we want is for people to come and enjoy their experience.
We’re not stuck up about food, there’s something for everyone. We have a separate vegan menu, a separate vegetarian menu, a separate children’s menu – we just want people to leave happy.
In your opinion, what does it take to become a Michelin-starred chef?
It’s a question that a lot of people ask. To be quite honest, there’s no tick box. There’s no guidebook to tell you what to do. You don’t apply for it, or pay for it… you work for it. You’re just on the radar for doing what you do.
The goal posts to achieve them are probably changing all the time, but we just try to keep things consistent. All the time.
I never chased a Michelin star, but we set off with the premise of always having a busy restaurant with bums on seats and happy customers. Fundamentally, we’re just doing what we do to the best of our ability.
What keeps you inspired?
I’ve always been a big lover of cookbooks – I like seeing what others are doing, not just from England but around the world.
My biggest inspiration though, will always be the ingredients. We’re always ingredient-led. Social media is massively influential, too.
Name your top restaurants
Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, I just love the experience. And probably, because I’ve got young kids and it’s the place we visit most – Pizza Express!
What do you think will be 2019’s hottest food trend?
Veganism is massive, and will only continue to grow. We serve masses of vegetarian food, too. I think people are looking for more of a change.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
I’m a great believer in bringing young people into the industry. We run a young chef competition ourselves – the Golden Apron. My main piece of advice is to get your head down, work hard and be loyal to places – don’t flit and move around a lot.
Get as much out of it as you can. Be interested in every part of the business, especially if you want to open your own place.
There’s some great chefs who aren’t necessarily great restauranters. You’ve got to have a good mix of everything. Cook for your customers and avoid being self-indulgent.
Finally, what’s your favourite midnight snack?
A glass of wine and a cheese toastie.
Try James’ dishes for yourself
The Pipe & Glass