Flash-grilled: James Cochran

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with chef James Cochran

Related tags: Chef

The chef patron of Islington restaurant 12:51 talks about how he's keeping busy while in lockdown, and relives the horror of the first time he made his girlfriend dinner at home.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
In the commercial kitchen, then that would be when chefs don’t think for themselves. I really admire a chef that can think on their feet. I want them to think about the question they are about to ask me, and see if they can answer it themselves first. In my own kitchen, it would have to be not cleaning as we go. Or, more specifically, my girlfriend’s habit of leaving unfinished cups of tea dotted around the kitchen; finish it, and then make another in the same cup.

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
I cooks through my roots, and from my heart.

What’s your biggest regret?
Without a doubt the trademarking of my name at James Cochran EC3. I was young and green and someone I thought I could put my trust into, took advantage of that naivety for their own gain. You have got to remember to have your own back and understanding your own value, that makes you I understand just how much you have to lose. From that experience, I learned so much though – from the importance of reading everything you put your name to, to the business​ of cheffing.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A Pacojet. It’s a multi-talented machine to have in your kitchen, helping with sauces, snows and ice creams in double quick time. 

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Crab and prawn tartlet with hollandaise from Wheeler’s Oyster Bar. It was the simplest of dishes and for me, the biggest hit of nostalgia; enjoying quality seafood close to its source and letting it speak for itself. I tried to make my own version, and capture what Wheeler’s managed to embody. I failed.

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
GBM, hands down.

Most overrated food?
Foraged herbs and edible flowers; seems to me that they don’t add anything in particular to a dish, apart from visually.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Bill Murray; David Genoula; Nas; David Attenborough; and Barack Obama.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
Cooking banana bread with my mum. I wish I had the recipe for it still, but unfortunately, we lost it when she passed away. 

Tipple of choice?
Negroni.

Favourite food and drink pairing (the more obscure, the better)? 
Negroni and fried chicken; it's heaven! 

What is the worst meal you’ve cooked at home?
Chicken sashimi pie – i.e raw chicken pie with raw chicken. It was the first time I’d cooked for my now girlfriend, and keep in mind I’d been a chef already for a good 15 years. Perhaps it was nerves cooking for someone I was so clearly into, but the chicken inside the pie was completely raw. We still laugh about it now.

Where will be your first meal out post lockdown?
The Begging Bowl in Peckham. I'll probably order the whole menu, but I’m going to eat that deep-fried sea bass first.

How are you keeping busy?
Lots of gardening and secretly resenting the fact that just before lockdown happened, I gave away my outdoor pizza oven to a friend. Now the weather is hotting up and I’ve given my garden some TLC, the thought of a freshly made pizza and a cold one is haunting me! We’ve also launched Around The Cluck – a delivery concept from 12:51, which me and my girlfriend and my business partner Dan run every week Thursday to Sunday. It’s been fun to come up with something that not only has an essence of 12:51 but has become an entity all on its own. The range is small, highlighting the signature chicken burger and seasonal sides and I’m really proud of it. Hopefully we can carry on perfecting it over the next few weeks. It’s a nice thought to know we’re still catering for the community that loved 12:51 and were regulars, just in a different way now on Deliveroo and Slurp.

Houseparty or Zoom?
Houseparty. Zoom is mad, if there’s too many people on there, you can’t hear a thing! Also, found myself learning some pretty cool facts and trivia on Houseparty; fun AND educational.

What boxset are you watching?
Ozark.

What’s the one ingredient you always have in your kitchen at home?
My own recipe scotch bonnet jam. It goes with everything: cheese on toast; bacon sarnie; chicken wings; scrambled eggs and avocado on sourdough; in a burger.

What one ingredient would you stockpile?
Cheese... don’t make me pick just one type!

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