Recently I had the pleasure of meeting James Sherwin who appeared on Channel 4's 'The Taste' with Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre. Although he didn't win the contest, he made a great impression with the judges with many of his dishes (or in the theme of the show I should say, tasting spoons), receiving fantastic plaudits.
Meeting James at Restaurant Epi's pop-up event, I had the chance to find out a little more about James' passion for cooking, his plans for the future and of course what it was like to work with some of the world's most renown culinary glitterati.
Why did you become interested in food and venture upon a career in cooking?
Cooking is fairly new to me; I only really fell in love with it 7 years ago around the birth of my first daughter. I’ve always been a fairly creative person or at least been interested in the creative side of things, cooking is an extension of that. As for a career in cooking, being on 'The Taste' had a bit of a profound effect on me, I was around like minded people and it really showed me what I love and what I want to do.
Although you cook a variety of cuisines, what do you like vegetarian wise and how do you view vegetarian food?
I was a vegetarian for around 13 years and still have those memories of the awful watery vegetable lasagnes you would get in pubs at the time. I’m not a huge fan of lazy vegetarian food, in that the dish is the same, other than the meat being replaced by some substitute. However 'vegetarian' food can be amazing if given the same respect, I challenge anyone not to look at golden beetroot or rainbow chard etc and not be excited about how it could taste. The beauty of 'vegetarian' food is that it really challenges you to produce something special as there isn’t that central protein to take all the glory. I was reading the new Noma recipe book a little while ago and so much of that could be termed as vegetarian, and that can only be a positive.
With the advent of spring, thoughts turn to a fresh harvest of seasonal food such as asparagus. Do you observe seasonal cooking?
As much as possible, definitely with my pop-up restaurants I do, maybe I’m a little looser at home. I’m very lucky that my partner’s mother has a beautiful vegetable garden so I get produce at its best. One of my favourite moments of last year was seeing my daughter's face as she ate a strawberry she picked herself that was still warm from the sun. You could see that she had never had a strawberry like it before, for me that encapsulated in a moment why seasonal cooking is so important.
Why did you apply to appear on 'The Taste'?
I kind of fell into by accident, I filled in a questionnaire about food I saw on Twitter, which led to the production team calling me, then an audition with food and eventually an offer. I went with it as it was a bit of fun and then all of a sudden I get a phone call saying that I’d been shortlisted.
What was the best thing you learned/took away from the show?
On a professional level it gave me the confidence and some know-how to come away and set up my pop-up restaurants, I’d never have done that before the show. On a personal level, some of the comments I got from the mentors was phenomenal, having Bourdain describe something I cooked as, “pretty damn incredible” is something that will always stay with me.
How was it working with the celebrity judges (Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre)?
It was all very surreal, just being around these 'TV characters' it’s almost as if they aren’t real and then all of a sudden Ludo would come up to me and say, "add a little more salt" or "that tastes good". One of the more surreal moments for me was after spending years watching Nigella on TV, having her come up to me while I was cooking, address me by name and ask me how to use the pressure cooker, I think that was my one moment of being star struck.
Has working with them changed your approach or outlook on cooking?
It’s not necessarily changed my outlook but working with Ludo definitely encouraged me to trust my creative side, he pushes boundaries and encouraged us to do the same, and that really resonated with me.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the other contestants?
I keep in touch with quite a few and it seems that we are all doing bits and pieces with each other. On April 3rd I’m doing a pop up in Yorkshire at Broughton Hall, 'Wild Yorkshire' with Debbie and Kalpna. Justin has also been a great source of advice for me. I’d like to think however that at some point soon we will have a big Taste get-together with some good food and a lot of drinks.
What plans do you have for the future and will you be appearing at any food festivals during the summer?
At the moment I’ve got a few other pop-ups planned (details on my website) with some more in the works. I’m doing a couple of local food festivals (Shrewsbury Fringe and Cosford) hopefully there’ll be a few more, I love talking to people about food. I’m also working with a fantastic local chef (Chris Conde at Henry Tudor House) gaining experience in a professional kitchen. As for the future, lots of hard work will culminate in my own restaurant serving £200 per person tasting menus - hehehe (!), in all seriousness though, the dream is to keep working on my own projects and others, learning who I am as a cook and we will see where things lead.
Where can people contact you and find out more information about your forthcoming projects?
I can be contacted via my website www.jamesinaspace.com or via Twitter @jamesinaspace. Get in touch!!!
I would like to thank James Sherwin for his time in conducting the interview and wish him every success for the future.