James Holah has been executive chef at Selfridges since 2015, having previously worked for Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White and at the Ritz London. He talks to Katherine Alano about his latest project and the challenges facing food banks
You are hosting your first What’s For Dinner? event in July. Can you tell us more about it?
Unfortunately, for hundreds of families around the country, “what’s for dinner?”, is a question that parents dread because they don’t know the answer. With this event we hope to raise awareness of food banks and how they are the last port of call for hundreds of families in crisis.
How did the relationship with Harrow Foodbank come about?
I live in Harrow and have been watching the situation decline for local families living below the poverty line. I found it difficult to deal with the juxtaposition of going to work every day and working with large amounts of great food and coming home to more tales of families in crisis, so I reached out to the food bank to see what I could do to help.
What chefs will be joining you?
So far, my fabulously talented right-hand man Piotr Wójcik here at Selfridges, plus an old friend and MasterChef favourite Sven-Hanson Britt is also confirmed. The Steak Restaurant in Hatch End has kindly donated its kitchen and dining room for the night, and the executive chef will be lending a hand, too.
What should diners expect on the menu? What will be the main challenges?
The menu will be made up completely of donations and from items that otherwise would have gone to waste. I reached out to some of the great suppliers that I have worked with over my career and the response and offers to support have been overwhelming. We won’t know what we are cooking until the day of the event, hence the name.
What do you hope to achieve with the initiative?
The food bank survives purely on a month-to-month basis, so I hope we sell out and raise enough money to pay the rent for them. We also want to raise awareness of the challenges food banks face and inspire other chefs and restaurateurs to do something different and reach out to their local food bank and hold an event such as this.
Food waste is a massive topic at the moment, along with plastic waste. How can professional kitchens do their bit?
At Selfridges we have just launched, with the support of all our concession partners, our new commitment to sustainability and are leading the way in environmental initiatives.
We ask our cooks to think of the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce the amount you actually consume and think before you throw something in the bin. If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world.
Are you hoping to host more?
It will hopefully become an annual event that raises money for this vital charity. I’d love to see ‘What’s For Dinners’ popping up independently all over the country.
Food banks are becoming more commonplace around the country. How can businesses help?
I would say simply reach out. Each business is unique, as is each community. It might not always be possible to hold an event such as this, but even if it’s a small donation and cup of tea and a chat, just knowing that there are people in the community who support you can make a massive difference to the volunteers, who in turn make a massive difference to the community.