James Cochran is cool, calm and passionate about cooking in a way that honours his roots and allows his parents legacy to live on. Starting in the kitchen at just 12 years old, James enjoyed the long hours and graft that came with his job back in the day… Going on to win the Great British Menu and open his own restaurant, 12:51, in London certainly made his mentors very proud… His aim now is to get himself a cooking show that offers an alternative perspective, and maybe in ten years or so to open a small restaurant in his beloved home town of Whitstable.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:20 Meeting James, setting the scene in 12:51, North London
00:04:39 The Great British Menu – which of James’ dishes stood out when he was on there? Chatting about goat…
- 00:05:40 “Every single kind of link was to represent my mum and the journey of that, so it turned out pretty alright… I think it’s a great platform for chefs to go in and grow and bloom.”
- 00:07:31 “I work with a company called James Cabrito and we put goat on here, and it’s sustainable meat.”
00:11:45 When did James start cooking, and when did he realise he wanted to be a chef?
- 00:12:43 “I used to cook with my mum and my mum was like ‘stop being so hard on James, whatever you want to do – we will be happy with’. So then I said, ‘I want to be a chef’ I want to cook.’”
- 00:13:23 “I started my first job when I was 12/13. £2 an hour, worked at a restaurant called wheelers oyster bar.”
00:15:03 Why is Whitstable so close to James’ heart?
- 00:16:00 “If you like your oysters, and you get like Whitstable bay ale, and it’s just all good craft beers, good atmosphere, everyone’s sort of drinking eating oysters, Morris dancing… It’s good fun.”
00:16:13 How old was James when he left his first job?
00:17:48 Did James have to start from scratch when he moved to London, or did he hop straight in as a chef?
- 00:18:32 “It was… I still have nightmares from it but it lays a really great foundation for some of the styles of food I do now. And it was some of the best years of my life.”
00:20:44 The love behind being a chef, and passion it takes
- 00:21:42 “You have to come to terms that you’re never gonna switch off from your restaurant. And when you kind of get to that stage, you find more happiness in yourself.”
00:22:36 What did James love so much about his job at Ledbury that made the long hours’ worth it?
- 00:23:10 “…As soon as I did, you’re in this family now. This is your family that you see 18 hours a day that become your best mates, you see more than your girlfriend and everything else.”
- 00:24:27 “He put more responsibility on me at the age of 25… 24 I think I was running the pass with Brett, back at that age that was amazing. But you don’t see that at the time.”
00:26:26 What’s the situation in kitchens now? Is the culture better or worse?
- 00:26:53 “People in this day and age care about the money more than caring about the experience. And in some ways, I can understand that – the cost of living in London goes up every year… So the money is important, but no one really cares about having to put the solid hours and the graft in…”
- 00:28:00 “I have gone from four chefs in November, down to two chefs. And in the space of next week, it’s just me.” [Discussing 12:51]
00:30:23 The Harvard Arms… It was like retirement!
- 00:30:55 “The kitchen brigade was only four, the head chef was very relaxed. But the breed of chefs all had that standard, and it was an enjoyable kitchen where you laugh and joked.”
00:31:48 Why did James leave the Harvard Arms?
- 00:31:51 “It’s time for me to do my own thing… I wanted to showcase my food, but I was only a Harvard Arms 2.0… That food wasn’t who I was.”
- 00:33:55 “I feel honest every day in the food that I do, and with both my parents passed away I’m carrying on their legacy in some way.”
00:35:15 The pop up scene! Was it easier for James? How did they market it?
- 00:36:27 “It was kind of word of mouth was the best publicity.”
00:36:55 Learning business, was it vital for James to do this in order to set up his own restaurant?
00:37:47 James Cochran EC3… Why didn’t James take his name with him when he left?
- 00:40:32 “It’s an interesting story because someone’s basically got your name and is trading under you, but the power of social media and the support I got from everyone was lovely and heart-warming… It’s hard to think when you can’t use your name anymore!”
00:42:10 Legal implications of starting up a business in the industry & advice!
00:43:47 Chatting about 12:51
- 00:44:34 How is it surviving as an independent restaurant in London?
- 00:45:05 “I think we are going to see a lot of restaurants closing down. I think the street food scene is killing the casual dining trade at lunch for sure… The street food scene has become absolutely saturated.”
- 00:46:08 “You’ve gotta be up with the new trends.”
00:47:18 Is the decline of big names going to help the restaurant industry?
- 00:47:59 “I’m hoping that your Prezzos, and your Asks, and your Pizza Express are going to fizzle out. And I think with that, the premium will drop down and allow it for more small restaurant groups to come in a flourish off that.”
00:49:26 Back to the street food scene – is fine dining fading out?
00:52:13 Did the Great British Menu help James get covers into his restaurant, and has it been a good platform to get his name out there?
- 00:51:58 “I find the cooking show is very middle class, I want to try and bring something more a bit more fun, accessible and a bit more affordable… That’s my vision for 2020.”
00:53:19 Scotch Bonnet Jam!
- 00:54:32 “I did a great British menu dish and had the Scotch Bonnet Jam as the compliment for it, and I was doing five six different cuts of goat… What was your favourite thing on the dish? The Scotch Bonnet Jam. Jesus Christ!”
00:55:13 Selling through other mediums to help out with rent! Brand awareness and fun projects
- 00:57:56 “I have my jerk spice but we did it wrong! I left the garlic and some other spice in it, so it reacted with the beer and I had to bin it all…” [Mark]: “Ohhh no!”
00:59:33 How does James find the balance between diversifying, creating awareness and then running the restaurant?
01:01:05 The importance of atmosphere – who is James’ target audience?
- 01:02:22 “It’s very personal when you come in. When you come in, don’t expect like Great British Menu that you’ll have white linen – you won’t.”
- 01:02:43 “What I’ve tried to do is hip hop music with small plates that stem from my roots – and the service is super relaxed.”
01:04:07 What is James’ favourite part of hospitality now? What drives him to go to work?
- 01:04:43 “It’s my happiest place to be. I think for any person, in any creative field, if you’re creating something… And you’re watching that expression on that customers face, that warming feel is the happiest feel for me.”
01:06:32 What’s the future for James?
01:07:40 Where is the best place to learn more about James and 12:51?
01:08:32 Marks final thoughts and sign off
If you’d like to learn more about James, 12:51 or even about how he effectively had his name TAKEN from him… Check out his social channels and the 12:51 website below, or listen to the full episode here.