Channel 4's Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs star James Cathcart worked at Thackeray's and Hengist in Kent and was head chef at Toast in Tunbridge Wells before deciding to become a relief chef. He tells Katherine Price about the realities of the role and his hopes beyond the show.
Tell us about your background Growing up on a farm opened me up to all the food and produce around me and the process from farm to plate. Butchering a lamb with the local gamekeeper was a once a month game I learned before riding a bike.
My first kitchen job was a pot wash at the age of 13 in a local Indian restaurant. I was so happy on the day I progressed to starters. Since then I have been lucky enough to train in some great places, ranging from fine dining to private dining, corporate functions, bistros, bars and restaurants.
What made you decide to become a relief chef? Firstly, sunlight and fresh air was something I wanted to experience more of after 10 years of being a chef. Initially, it was for a better work/life balance, but it then became a culinary adventure in itself. Having the opportunity to meet so many chefs and talk and share knowledge has been priceless.
Can you describe your day-to-day job? A usual day will be a call from my agent who pitches the sites and duration of relief work. I will look up the venue on social media to get an idea of what to expect, then I just jump in and start cooking.
What has been your most stressful experience? That would have to be the time I covered at a hotel near Stansted. When I arrived, the minor detail that I wasn't informed about was that I'd be covering the hotel alone, and I could only have one other agency chef if we had a function with over 100. As you can imagine, after three weeks of working breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was pretty draining.
How did you get involved with the show? I was covering for a head chef at a restaurant and cocktail bar in St Paul's, London, when my agent called and asked if I would be interested in talking with a research developer for the show. We spoke over a month or so about what my trade was like.
What was it like? I had the opportunity to find out more about the TV industry. I was actually in the process of writing multiple TV shows around food at the time, and one of the shows that I had been planning was along the same lines. As I am a chef and not a producer, having the opportunity to witness the process with a great production company was priceless.
Tell us about your consulting work After a few years of being a relief chef, I was being called to places that were not operating at 100%, and I started to notice the source of the problems, so I would offer a training plan and menu development.
Who do you work with? At the moment I have a few sites I'm consulting for and I have just taken on the London Cabaret Club, where I'm selecting a brand new team to take over the very popular cabaret events. I'm also working with Karma Leisure Group, which is building 20 new hotels across the globe, overseeing the restaurant development.
What's on the cards for you for 2017? I have a few dishes that have been floating around in my mind that I want to materialise this year. I'm hoping we get a call for the show to go to a full series as the process has been such a learning curve that I'm so grateful for.
And hopes for the future? My hopes for the future are to open my own restaurant in a couple of years.
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