How I got to where I am now:
I had been a barrister for a few years but had enough and I left it to write a book about mountain biking in Spain. I wanted to open a restaurant there, but it never happened so I decided to apply for MasterChef and everything escalated from there.
Straight after MasterChef I did a lot of food fairs and demonstrations – everyone wants a piece of you for a while. When that died down I went and did work experience in a few places before getting a job at Bentley’s with Richard Corrigan. I did six months there before going to work with Michael Caines at Bath Priory for six months. That takes me to where I am now working with Rick Stein. I’ve always loved fish and everything about the sea. Bentley’s was very fish-orientated and so are Rick’s restaurants, so working with him is fulfilling a real passion for me.
My greatest achievement:
Being on MasterChef, but it is a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that it really opened doors for me, but a curse because I’d go into these kitchens and these guys had been working 17 or 18-hours a day and would say ‘who’s this guy?’.
Everybody who wins MasterChef almost has delusions of grandeur and you do get offered the chance to open your own restaurant, but I think I stuck quite a difficult course to go in at ground level. It can be difficult to stay on that track, but I have developed so much as a chef because of it and I’m so proud of that.
My biggest challenge:
I’ve had to start from scratch again. It’s been challenging being 38, working really hard and then earning the wages of a 20-year-old. That’s been the hardest thing, but then I’m doing something I love.
My thoughts on food fairs:
There are lots of events out there dedicated to food, but it’s really nice to go and do a food fair where there are really top quality ingredients involved. The Speciality and Fine Food Fair really features the cutting edge of ingredients and as a chef that’s really exciting. I’m doing some cooking demos that combine sustainability and fish. I want to produce something there that’s simple, sustainable and remarkable.
My future plans:
I’m at a crossroads because, like I say about my age, I have come a long way, but it’s difficult to compete with those who are younger. I’d love to open my own restaurant, but it’s very hard to make them viable and successful. I’m talking to Rick (Stein) about doing something with him, but I can’t say anymore on that.
I do love event catering and I’m looking at that too. Whatever I do, it has to be something that keeps me living in the West Country because I love the lifestyle here.
James Nathan will be at the Speciality and Fine Food Fair at London Olympia on Monday 5 September from 1.30pm.