A New Jersey native, James has fond memories of learning about delicious down-home cooking with his family in New Jersey, Georgia and New Orleans: rolling dumplings with his grandmother for her famous chicken and dumplings, stirring gumbo with his aunt while preparing for the crawfish boil, grilling clams and shucking corn at his grandparents house at the Jersey Shore. Without realizing it at the time, he was falling in love with the food and the memories it has the power to create. As a teenager, he worked in a local pizzeria as a bus boy and delivery person, yet he was always attracted to the kitchen – lured in by the constant hustle and bustle – and found that this was his passion: a creative outlet in a fast-paced and demanding environment.
James worked through college in Florida working at several bars and restaurants gaining both front-of-house and back-of-house experience, only furthering his growing enthusiasm for the culinary and hospitality industries. In September 2005, he earned a Culinary Arts degree at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and then headed back to New Jersey to really jumpstart his career.
James started his own catering company, Backyard Barbecue Group, specializing in outdoor events and private parties. He then worked under David Burke at Formagerie and honed his skills in classic techniques like roasting chicken and making fresh pasta. Together with his family, James opened J Café – offering from-scratch cooking with local and seasonal ingredients – in the small seaside community of Lake Como, N.J., situated between Belmar and Spring Lake. They eventually transformed J café into Jersey Burger – a classic American burger joint.
Determined to continue furthering his career and developing his skills, he drove down to Atlantic City, N.J., on a whim and was hired at Michael Mina’s Sea Blue where he eventually became a Sous Chef. James took some time off from the restaurants to travel the Northeast working on the culinary production team for Gordon Ramsay’s hit television show “Kitchen Nightmares” in 2010. He stayed on as a consulting chef for one of the renovated New Jersey restaurants before making his way back to Michael Mina. He then joined BR Guest Hospitality and helped to open Dos Caminos, and three sister restaurants at Harrah’s Resort in May 2011. In 2012 James was asked to become the Blue Team Sous Chef on Gordon Ramsay’s culinary competition chow Hell’s Kitchen on Fox.
An advocate for the Slow Food movement, James also initiated and still oversees to this day, Le Petit Chef program teaching N.J. schoolchildren more about food, nutrition and simple meal preparation. He and his wife, Diana have three young children and live in Wall, N.J., where James enjoys maintaining a healthy lifestyle including avid exercise and outdoor training.