Q&A with Chef James Diack

Chef James Diack

We chat to Chef James Diack, owner of Coobs and The National, and got to know him a bit better. Read on for some interesting insights and fun facts about Chef James.

What is your favourite food trend and why?

There’s a couple that really resonate with my focus on seasonality and sustainability:

  • Provenance: People are starting to really care about where the dish comes from and are clueing up. Customers want to know if their grass-fed steak is 100% grass-fed or finished on 20% corn. In this light, people need to make sure that what they’re being told is the truth – are the eggs genuinely free range, and is the chicken totally organic? It’s important to remember sustainability is all about protection – protection of the environment, protection of our diners’ health and not least of all protection of animal health.
  • Purity of flavour: If a carrot is a carrot, it must taste like a carrot. Chefs are now focusing on enhancing the ingredient flavours rather than masking or augmenting them.
  • The end of the individual food revolution: Customers are more focused on ingredients and what they become, rather than seeking out just Mexican from a Mexican restaurant, or just a burger from a burger joint.
  • Local focus: In Spain, an increasing number of restaurants are focusing on what ingredients are local to them, and then plating them beautifully. It’s essentially knowing who the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker is in your area.Suppliers being part of the journey: Suppliers want to know what becomes of the ingredients they supply, and how they’re cooked. This closer relationship and interaction ensures the industry will grow, and standards will increase.
  • Reinvention: Taking certain “old classics” back to what they were originally and giving it back its identity. So, for example, the hot dog. Taking a hot dog from the bright red sausage and a bread roll that stays fresh for five days; back to a handmade, free-range sausage on a homemade bun (that goes stale the next day…). In Zurich, there is a hotdog stand which serves free-range pork hot dogs – and they’re busy!

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?

I love working with pork. It’s been such an underrated product for so long, and always looked at as the cheap cut of meat. Now, it’s more in focus and makes a great dish. I also love working with marrows! Everyone always just thinks of baby marrows, but at Coobs we have five different ingredients from marrows in our kitchen, including the zucchini flowers from the baby marrows, and the leaves of the plant. It’s light, crisp and a beautiful ingredient to cook with.

What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever been given?

Cook what you know!

What is always on demand in your kitchen?

Pork belly has been a firm favourite at Coobs since we opened.

What’s your favourite kitchen tool?

My mandolin. I currently have five – I’ve had nine at one stage.

What is your favourite travel destination and why?

I have three in particular… Burgundy in France, the coastal town of San Sebastián in Spain and Tuscany in Italy. All of these places really embody simple food, locally sourced and really great wine.

The weirdest, most out-of-this-world meal you have ever had?

Hands down, when I ate Mugaritz in Spain – a 15-course pairing menu with ingredients sourced from 5km around the restaurant. They’re right on the coast, so there ws fresh fish from the Bay of Biscay. It’s the original provenance menu, and the restaurant went all the way to number two in the world.

What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?

I don’t cook at home! My wife, Robyn, cooks – she makes a great roast chicken. Otherwise, we eat out.

Five restaurants every foodie should have on their bucket list

  • Au Fil du Zinc (Chablis, France)
  • Blue Hill at Stone Barns (New York, USA)
  • El Celler de Can Roca (Girona in Catalunya, northern Spain)
  • Mugaritz (Bay of Biscay, Spain)
  • Tokara (Cape Town, South Africa)

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