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Hillside Nursery, Toftwood, Dereham, Norfolk, NR19 1NP

Member of the Month December 2018: James Self

Here at Nurtured in Norfolk, we believe that our customers are what make Nurtured in Norfolk what we are today and we would like to thank you all by showcasing & celebrating your culinary talents – this month’s winner is James Self, a member who regularly contributes to our project ‘The Nurtured way – showcasing culinary talents and bringing you everything within the chef’s world’. He will also receive a Nurtured in Norfolk goodie bag, full of fresh and flavourful produce.

We spoke to Chef James Self to find out more about him…

James Self works at Grain Restaurant in Colchester, joining 6 months ago and hasn’t looked back. Offering smaller, starter sized portions, with the menu spilt into sections; garden, water, land and dessert. The idea being that the customer can design their own tasting menu. Changing the menu almost every week; this gives not only the customer a different experience, but also the chef. ‘I find it Ann exciting challenge to create new dishes and combine different flavours’ – James Self.


Why did you become a chef?

When I was younger my mum would always cook at home, whether that be mid-week dinner, cakes, or roast dinners. So, I kind of grew up around cooking, and had always taken an interest in what mum was doing. I studied food technology at GCSE and A-level, when I looked at the University courses I decided I didn’t want to do any of them! So, I went to Colchester institute and enrolled in the professional chefs course. I instantly fell in love with food and began reading, watching, researching anything to do with food.


What is your cooking style & what can people expect from the food on your menu?

As I said we do things a bit differently at Grain, and this has changed my style a little bit, as the menu changes so regularly. This is a great way to try new things and different interpretation of classic dishes. Although I think we like to have a few different flavours on the menu, we also keep classic flavours which are always a big hit. I would like to think my style is modern British, with influences from different places I’ve worked, eaten at or travelled to!

I like to use bold flavours, while keeping the dish relatively simple. Sometimes only using a few ingredients, but presenting that ingredient in a few different ways.


What is your favourite cuisine & dish to cook?

I’m not sure I have a favourite cuisine, I like to travel and will always try the local cuisine. I love finding new foods, new flavours and a different culture take on cooking. Favourite dish to cook, I always say I hate this question, as I can’t decide! I suppose it depends on the seasons, I’m always excited when the first lot of strawberries or English asparagus comes in. This is even more the case now, as we change the menu so often, when something comes into season we’re normally fighting over who will get to use it in their dish!

So, at the moment, one of my favourite dishes we have on is a venison lion, with black garlic, fermented and spiced red cabbage puree, sprouts, bacon and crispy kale. I like to think of it as almost an alternative Christmas dinner! But ask me next month and it will have changed!


What is your greatest accomplishment?

I loved my time working in London, to go straight from college, to working in a professional kitchen in London, was massive for me. Even though it was tough, looking back it was the best place for me to learn. I was lucky enough to work at Roux at Parliament Square, this was basically my dream job when I left college. Steve Groves is a brilliant chef, and to work with him and the other chefs there was a great experience. I even got to meet, cook with and for Michel Roux jr. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great chefs throughout my career and have picked up different ideas and techniques from all of them.

While at college, I was chosen to spend a week cooking at Buckingham palace, and help cater for hundreds of people including the queen and some of the royal family. It was a great experience in catering for large numbers. Even though I was only doing little jobs, it was an early indication that this was the career for me, and it’s kind of gave me the confidence to move to London and pursue my career.


What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe 2 or 3 of the most important industry trends.

The menu changing so often helps a lot for the restaurant to ‘stay on trend.’ We like to try new things for example we have started fermenting and pickling ingredients. I love the flavour it gives to root vegetables. It is also a great way to store and preserve vegetables, reducing wastage.

We make our own bread at the restaurant which is something I haven’t really done before. Making sourdough is an art form and you can’t beat the feeling or the smell of freshly baked bread first thing in the morning. We also like to make our own butter at the restaurant. So, the first thing the customer receives will be homemade bread and homemade flavoured butter, I think this sets the tone for a good meal at the very first opportunity!

I love reading cook books, they pretty much make up my Christmas list now! Obviously, this is a great way to get new ideas and stay current. I am currently reading Daniel Clifford’s book, I find the changes midsummer house have gone through fascinating and it is almost a a story of British gastronomy as well.

I also enjoy eating out probably too much, but I like to call it research! I think going out and sampling new flavours, new restaurants are the best way, not only for a chef to learn but also relax and enjoy a day off!


What do you like about Nurtured in Norfolk’s new launch ‘The Nurtured Way’?

I like the nurtured way as it is a platform for chefs to communicate, share ideas and get inspiration from other chefs across the country. I think there can be a culture of this is my recipe/idea, you can’t have it. That shouldn’t be the case, there’s loads of great chefs out there with different ideas and takes on food. I think social media is great for that as well, it’s an easy access point for chefs from across the world, to have a flick through when you get home and get inspired by a different presentation idea or a new ingredient.


Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time & are there any plans for the future?

At the moment I’m really enjoying being at Grain and I feel like I’m developing as a chef, learning all the time and being allowed to be creative. These are some of the most important things to me, as well as being part of a great team. So, for the foreseeable future I hope to be part of making Grain as good as it can be. As I believe in what we are doing and think we have a great future.

My girlfriend and I have always joked about opening up our own restaurant one day, so that’s the pie in the sky dream!!


James Self (Instagram: @selfy_itfc)

Do you want to be the next member of the month? Start sharing your images, videos & recipes with @thenurturedway to be in with a chance of winning of a goodie bag of Nurtured in Norfolk produce!

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