Chef Q&A: James Cochran
James is the culinary brains behind Islington’s acclaimed 1251 (see our review), having made his name with appearances on Great British Menu and his now-defunct, and controversial, restaurant James Cochran EC3. When he left that restaurant, the owners trademarked his name and some key recipes – much to the outrage of the foodie community. Cochran could not use his name for his new place, and so restaurant 1251 was named after a Strokes song. Here he tells us about his early cooking ambitions and his dream day.
Tell us about your early food experiences… who taught you to cook, what were family meals?
Mum was my teacher, I also learned a huge amount at my first job at Wheelers Oyster bar. I remember eating oysters from the age of four, I loved trying new things.
Was it always the plan to be a chef?
Yes! From the age of eight I knew I wanted to be a chef – my mum inspired me, from her unique Caribbean/UK mix, it made me want to learn more.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I love seafood. Having being brought up by the sea, it’s always my go to, along with my Caribbean heritage and Michelin trained background.
What’s your signature dish?
Buttermilk Jerk Chicken.
How do you think the world of restaurants is changing for us vegetarians?
Some of my strongest dishes (I have been told) are vegetarian, it’s not a taboo subject these days, it’s not just cauliflower cheese anymore. Vegetarianism is so accessible nowadays, soon veganism will be as mainstream as vegetarianism.
Tell us a couple of highlights from your career?
Getting the job at The Ledbury and being awarded ‘Champion of Champions’ in Great British Menu 2018.
And a lowlight?
Letting investors use my talent, and not knowing about business, it has been a massive learning curve for me.
Do you entertain at home?
Not so often as I wish, working all hours under the sun and not having a dining table! We eat off our laps at home!
What do you cook that’s quick and easy?
Usually, I would whip up a fragrant Thai broth. Asian food is my favourite, it’s usually made from left-over chicken from a Sunday, lots of fresh chillies and herbs – a lot can be found in your pantry!
What’s the best chef’s trick we might not know?
Peel Ginger with a spoon.
What would be your desert island dish or drink?
A Negroni! if I was going to be stuck on an island, I might as well be drunk.
What’s your favourite restaurant or bar apart from your own?
What do you like to do when you’re not in the kitchen?
Walk my dog Bella, spend time with my girlfriend and chill with family and friends.
What would be your idea of a perfect non-work day?
A sunny walk with the dog and girlfriend, stopping off at several pubs along with way, go home and make a roast dinner and then watch a Netflix film.
Words by Steven Short