James Ferguson: Career Profile

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Head chef, Gordon ramsay

Former Rochelle Canteen head chef James Ferguson is looking forward to seeing a packed restaurant in his new role as head chef of The Beagle
Former Rochelle Canteen head chef James Ferguson is looking forward to seeing a packed restaurant in his new role as head chef of The Beagle
James Ferguson, head chef at the newly-opened Shoreditch restaurant Beagle, talks about how he made his way up the career ladder and why you won't see him chasing Michelin stars.

How I got to where I am now:

My parents owned a Greek restaurant in Halifax when I was growing up, so I was quite involved there - I was washing dishes when I was eight years old and cooking at 14 - but it wasn’t really my career choice then. I wanted to be a musician, so I went to music college, but when I finished at the age of 22 I realised I didn’t want to make music a career, so I did an HND in Birmingham and then went to London to find some work.

I went to Gordon Ramsay and got a job working with Angela Hartnett at The Connaught. Angela is a strong woman, she doesn't take any rubbish, but she's really encouraging and I ended up staying in her kitchen for four years, working my way through the different sections. 

From The Connaught I moved on to a few fine-dining restaurants, but I found them a bit lifeless and they weren't catering for the people I wanted to cook for. I wanted to cook for families and young people in busy restaurants, so when I got introduced to Margot Henderson and heard about Rochelle Canteen I jumped at working there. 

It changed my style of cooking and I loved that it was accessible to more people, so I stayed there for four years until I met Kieran and Danny (Clancy) who were looking to open Beagle. 

I was head chef for quite a while with Margot and I'm head chef here, but the difference is the food is driven more by me here, it's completely my food and I have more freedom to do what I want to do. 

My biggest challenge:

Opening this place (Beagle) is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced, but it’s also the most exciting one.

Setting up a kitchen from scratch in three derelict railway arches wasn’t easy – most of the places you go into are already set up to be a restaurant -  but equally it’s great because I have had the chance to design it with the guys (the Clancys) and get it how we want it. The kitchen is open and I’ve always been into cooking over charcoal and wood as you get an amazing flavour and I’ve been able to do that. 

My biggest achievement:

I got tired of working in kitchens where chefs were driven by awards and Michelin stars – I call them career chefs – so awards don’t motivate me.

I think it’s an achievement to have a full restaurant where customers are happy to be eating good food and will come back again and again and where the staff are happy too. 

My inspiration:

My grandmother was Greek and she cooked amazing, simple food that always came out fantastically well. My dad carried that on in the restaurant but also at home where we had fresh dishes cooked for us every day. We never had processed stuff out of the freezer - all the kids at school would want to come and eat at ours where we'd have a whole leg of lamb cooked with garlic on the table. 

My menu now reflects that simple approach my family applied to cooking and so I'd say, although I've worked with some amazing chefs, they are my biggest inspiration. 

My advice for young chefs:  

Be prepared to work the hours when everyone else is out having fun and ensure you keep the passion up. If you're working somewhere and you don't like the food, don't be afraid to move somewhere else. 

It is good to start in a kitchen where you can learn the basics though. I went to catering college for two years and it didn't stand me in that good stead. The college was quite old fashioned in its approach and it didn't ready me for work, so my best training was on-the-job. 

There are some good colleges out there who have got a forward-thinking approach, but not all of them do - some will have you making scallop mousse - who wants that these days? so it's worth finding those that are good if that's the route you want to take.

What's next.....

I just want things to get going with Beagle now. We've been busy focusing on opening and now that's here. We are already doing a lot in the way of producing everything from fresh - we have a lot of beautiful salads and grilled meat and fish on the menu - and I want to be able to keep that going no matter how busy we get.

That's as far as I can look, for now I'll just be happy with a nice full restaurant.

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