“I love the buzz and the creativity”, says Mark James, WA sous chef who cooks “modern Australian food with a twist”.
There’s probably not a chef on the planet, let alone in Australia, who doesn’t share the same passion and dedication to their cooking. And Mark simply fizzes more than most with enthusiasm, as we shall see in this bite-sized bio…
The spark was lit from his earliest years. Growing up in the UK, Mark says, that “As a kid, he was “always in the kitchen” cooking and baking alongside his Mum.
Cooking in his first professional kitchen at 15 years old
Incredibly, Mark was cooking in his first professional kitchen at 15 years old, even before starting his apprenticeship. One year later, he was at Rick Stein’s flagship sea food restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. From here, his training in classic French cuisine soon opened the doors to restaurant kitchens across the county.
All the hard work paid off with Mark elevated to the role of Head Chef. No mean achievement at this early stage in his career. But Mark’s passion to “keep learning and improving his knowledge and skills” led to his next move – the big jump to Australia.
“Modern Australian food with an European twist”
Those early years of training were the keys to Mark landing jobs in the kitchens of “several high end restaurants right across Australia”. One appointment at the Salt House – a dining, bar and entertainment venue, in Cairns, Queensland – led to Mark working his way up to sous chef. This was followed by his move to WA and to continue wearing the sous chef’s hat.
Mark says he’s “working alongside great chefs”, and totally blown away by the “modern Australian food concepts with a European twist”.
“It’s an amazing place! I love coming up with new dishes, getting the restaurant to where it needs to be, and helping with day to day operations. I also get to work with some of the most amazing WA produce from local suppliers”.
Love of everything about being a chef
Mark makes a point of highlighting his love of everything about being a chef, from creating new dishes, the “buzz” of service and helping other chefs grow – and even the pressure that comes with working in a commercial kitchen.
Mark has also cultivated his own food philosophy from the many cooking experiences in his career, to date. “I cook what I love to eat – it’s that easy”. Like many head chefs interviewed at Life on the Pass, his belief is to “Keep it simple and don’t overwork it. Let the food do all the talking!” It’s an approach we’re sure to hear repeated by more chefs in future interviews.
We all have a cold beer or glass of wine after our shift
Another approach, often shared, is how a head chef takes care of their staff to better deal with the daily pressure and stress that can build up in the kitchen. Mark says, “we all have a cold beer or glass of wine after our shift and chat about the stress or problems of service – and leave it at work!”.
The key is to “keep work separate from my personal life, a way of managing which just comes with time”. Life away from the pass is “family time” , says Mark, adding, “and maybe some fish! It’s good to go out and eat at other good restaurants to see what other chefs are up to!”. Like all chefs passionate about their work, even time off still means keeping their culinary eyes alert to what’s happening in the restaurants around them.
Mark offers the same enthusiastic advice to younger chefs starting out in the industry. “Be a sponge – soak up everything – and never stop asking questions”. He advises not to “just find the job that pays the best money” but find the job where you can “learn the most about food and cooking. Take it all onboard – the good and the bad!”