We are excited to share our interview with Chef James Kent, Executive Chef at The NoMad in NYC. To check out his featured recipe, Sea Bass Poached with Summer Squash and Peppers, click here.
Q: What is your Favorite Food (to eat):
JK: Tough question- recently, after a long night at the restaurant, I’m always craving ramen. I can’t get enough of it.
Q: What is your Favorite Food (to cook):
JK: That’s a tough question actually…depends on the season, where I am. Am I cooking for my guests at the restaurant, the guests in my home, or my family? If I have to answer, I’d say eggs: an omelet for my son and daughter when they wake up on Sunday morning. It’s the reason for everything.
Q: What inspired you to start cooking?
JK: Food is such a personal thing; it has real emotional ties to past experiences. I feel some of the most important points of my life have been around the dinner table; it is a place that I feel most at home. It was an easy transition as a young man to want to help orchestrate these events and not just be a bystander but an active participant. It helped me carve out my career and help me find my path.
Q: When did you start?
JK: I started working in restaurant at a very young age; a family friend owned a neighborhood restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. I wasn’t really given the option, I was told to show up one Sunday. I was 12 years old.
Q: Who is your greatest culinary inspiration?
JK: Daniel Humm.
Q: What do you think makes a great chef?
JK: I think it is really all about hard work and dedication; it’s about being almost unreasonable in what you expect of yourself and your team. You must put the guest above everything else, it’s all for them.
Q: How did you develop your personal cooking style?
JK: For me, it’s been a long journey. It’s a lifetime of eating, of studying food, of working with some amazing, talented chefs and their teams. Through those experiences, things come into focus. You start to realize what you want to share with others.
Q: How has your personal cooking style changed over the years?
JK: Cooking for me is about evolution. I really try to make a concerted effort to keep pushing, taking myself out of my comfort zone.
Q: What does “American Cuisine” mean to you?
JK: I think the beauty of American cuisine is that we are still figuring out what that is. We’re not tied to hundreds of years of traditions. I think it’s exhilarating to be coming out of the other end of the processed/packaged foods of the late 20th century. We’re still discovering regional specialties. We’re free to do what we want.
Q: Why is the Bocuse d’Or competition important in the grander culinary world?
JK: It is important because it brings the culinary community together and challenges us to really work at our best. It is cooking at the highest level, competing with some of the beset chefs in the world. There is nothing like this.
Q: What motivated you to try out for the Bocuse d’Or Team USA?
JK: I was at a point in my life and career that I really needed to push myself. My wife and I just had our first child; I was a young sous-chef at Eleven Madison Park. I was feeling confident in my abilities and I wanted to focus on something extraordinary. It was really the perfect time I had the opportunity and support of my team, my family and was motivated to do challenge myself at the highest level.
Q: What was it like being at the Bocuse d’Or?
JK: It was incredibly intense and rewarding. I imagine it is how an Olympian must feel: to work for so hard and so long for just one day; training so you can compete at the highest level for almost 6 hours. To know that 24 chefs are on the same path, with the same goals is something special.
Q: What was it like training as Team USA?
JK: It was really more about the journey than anything else. We had the opportunity of working with the best chefs in the country. We had a support group that was with us along the way. We really created some amazing friendships and had some crazy experiences. It was really a special time in my career and has helped me really define the chef that I am.
Q: What did you learn from being part of Team USA? What advice would you give to future candidates representing Team USA?
JK: Cooking is a team sport, at the level of the Bocuse d’Or or in any traditional kitchen. You need to trust the team around you; you must understand their weaknesses and their strengths. It’s like playing a very fast game of chess where losing isn’t an option.
Q: What advice do you have for young chefs and restaurateurs who are just getting started?
JK: Hard work is really what it is all about. You need to never feel complaisant and make sure to push as hard as possible at all points.
Q: Who was your first mentor or most memorable mentor? What impact did they have on your personal or professional development?
JK: I’ve had a lot of people that have mentored and supported me professionally and personally along the way. I do look back at my Grandmother; she has always been there and really pushed us all to work at the highest level. She was a constant guiding force of gentle pressure; something that inspired me in how I run a kitchen.
Q: Why do you think mentorship plays such an important role in the culinary profession?
JK: Cooking is a team sport, and no team would make it without a good coach. I could make some Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson references right now, but I won’t.
Q: What are you working on next?
JK: My favorite season approaches: fall.