Cheers and welcome to CookWithJames. As you can probably tell cooking is my passion. There is almost nothing I love more than throwing dinner parties for my friends and coming up with wonderful and creative dishes. The combination of the creative process, the planning and preparation of the dishes, and the act of giving to my friends is quite simply very rewarding. The intensity and focus that cooking requires is also extremely satisfying.
Eleven years ago I only knew how to cook a few dishes. One day–shortly after 9/11 and the closure of internet company Quidnunc–I found myself watching FoodNetwork. Wolfgang Puck was preparing Chilean Sea Bass (yes, we now know that this fish is not sustainable!) with braised escarole and cannellini beans. I liked his personality and how he seemed so happy to be preparing the food. And so I thought that I should give it a try. What a wonderful way to channel one’s creativity! So I recorded the show and watched it several times to understand the preparation. That day I went out and bought some wonderful sea bass and put the dish together that night. It was my first major dish and it turned out very well (though my presentation skills have improved considerably over the years).
From that moment on cooking became a daily part of my life. Here are the major events that occurred over the next few years that shaped my learning and cooking techniques:
I should also mention that I grew up on a 50 acre horse farm near the Salinas Valley. My great grandfather emigrated from Yugoslavia into the Central Valley and started an apple farm. His son–my grandfather–later moved to the very fertile Salinas Valley and started one of the first produce companies. It was called Sun Harvest. My mother raised us mostly on organic fruits and vegetables though there was still the occasional cooking “out of a can” given the generation.
Fritz & Jeff: In 2002 I moved into a beautiful condo on Masonic and Frederick in Ashbury Heights. Little did I know that nearly the entire building was into cooking in a big way. Fritz, in particular, has been a source of learning and inspiration for me. He has worked at Chez Panisse for many years as both a chef and more recently as a ghost writer for Alice Waters. I do not know anyone who knows more about food than Fritz.
Michael Tusk: Chef Tusk and his wife Lindsay were kind enough to allow me to work in the Quince kitchen on the weekends. I did this for eight months and learned so much more than I could ever hope to get from a book or cooking show. Michael is simply amazing. The menu at Quince changes each and every day and always showcases the finest local and seasonal ingredients. Quince is truly a labor of love. Visit the restaurant’s site at www.quincerestaurant.com.
Lola & Spain: I first went to live in Spain for a junior year abroad while an undergraduate. I had the incredible fortune to live with a Spanish family. Lola quickly adpoted me as her “fifth” son and I have enjoyed a deep and lasting friendship with her for over 17 years. It was Lola who took me to my first farmer’s market and taught me how to shop for ingredients and allow the market to dictate the menu. Lola is an incredible cook and has written her own cook book. I have a copy on the shelf in my kitchen. Last spring I returned to Madrid and did a series of her in her kitchen. You can view them here.
Italy: I have traveled all over Italy and have spent time with many chefs in different regions. I also have many friends in Italy whose families taught me the most important cooking of all…that of “Grandmother’s.” One of the very first lessons I learned was how to properly cook pasta so that it was “al dente.” On my most recent trip my friend Victoria and I cooked dinner for a chef in Firenze. We also explored the cucina Romana and the food of Naples and Campania with great enthusiasm and dedication.
Victoria & A16: My friend Victoria is an ongoing inspiration as well. I know few people who are more passionate about food than she. Her restaurant, A16, features authentic pizzas and regional dishes from Campania. There is no where better in the entire country (that I have tried) to find a truly authentic Pizza Napoletana. The selection of wines from Campania and farther south (down to Sicily) is amazing. Visit the restaurant’s site at www.a16sf.com.
Joseph: My friend Joseph hails from Brittany, France and has been in the restaurant business for 40 years. He spent 27 of those in San Francisco and was responsible for opening Zazie in Cole Valley and Town House in Emeryville. Joseph is a regular at my supper club parties and is an ongoing source and inspiration for food. Our next project is to build a rotisserie in my fireplace!
Thank you for visiting CookWithJames. I hope you enjoy our web site and all of the video and recipe content to come!