It’s very hard to describe James Viles without including the word ‘overachiever’ somewhere. At 23, he was one of the youngest chefs to be awarded a Chef’s Hat from Bowral’s The Schoolhouse. In six years, he jetsetted around the globe, working with 110 chefs and five internationally acclaimed restaurants. April 2011, he launched his own restaurant, Biota Dining, which has already collected its fair share of accolades, including Regional Restaurant of the Year and two hats in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide 2014. It’s enough to make anyone take a step back in awe (or maybe take a step closer to try and soak up some of his talent!). With his approachable personality, he’s as much at home hands deep in the dirt of his garden as he is in lofty Michelin-starred kitchens. We sit down with James to talk about family and his passion for the organic, local produce that fuels Biota’s food philosophy.
Above: James Wears Emporio Armani Black Jersey Knit $535, Emporio Armani Leather Blouson $1665
OG: Cooking to me is…
Curious, freedom, creative, resourceful, respectful
OG: If you could describe yourself as a dish. What would it be?
Not quite sure, I guess it would be calculated and free form, I enjoy life to be just that. Free from complication and hassle with space to create and reflect.
OG: Can you talk us through the meaning behind Biota and why this so aptly represents the venue?
Biota means quite simply the balance of animal and plant life of a particular region, and our restaurant is simply the vehicle to connect people with ingredients from Mother Nature.
OG: You’re a country boy, how did you fall into the world of cooking?
I grew up in Scone and Bowral and started working in a local Butcher shop when I was 12. I also worked in a local hotel on the weekend making the canapes and polishing cutlery, I guess it was just in my blood. I enjoyed the buzz, the people and the action…and of course I loved the food, all the wonderful tastes and smells, things I had never tasted or smelt before.
OG: You’ve received many awards, what do all the accolades mean for you?
They are nice, however at Biota we all cook for one common goal, to tell the story of our region and re-define regional Australian cuisine in this era. This is an important role as cooks, the awards are great for the team and it’s nice to be recognised.
James Wears Emporio Armani Tee $255, Emporio Armani Knitted Jacket $850
OG: Your mum Kathy who’s a horticulturalist grows much of the kitchen’s produce on site. How crucial has your family been in your journey?
Without the love and support from my parents, my wife and my daughter I would not be able to do what I do, I owe my entire career to them, they keep me strong and balanced.
OG: Talk us through you footprint of delivering habitats on a plate.
It just makes sense, it’s like joining the dots, Mother Nature provides us with the ingredients in certain parts of the region, we as cooks just have to join the dots. It’s respecting and give us an honest approach and a unique style.
OG: Prior to Biota, you worked overseas in restaurants and hotels throughout the Asia and the Middle East. What was your favorite place?
My favorite place would have been Dubai- for a young bloke Dubai make Vegas feel organic!
OG: Wolfgang Puck says: “A chef is a mixture maybe of artistry and craft. You have to learn the craft really to get there”. What are your thoughts?
He is right. I think we are forever expressing our craft. It’s about defining who you are and where you fit in this field which may take forever… along the way you will learn from others and become solid in your approach.
OG: What advice would you have for anyone thinking of opening their own venue or starting out in the world of chefs and kitchens?
Listen; learn; inspire; read; teach. Love these and let them all come into 15hrs a day 7 days a week..it’s a big jump!
OG: If you had 3 people to invite to dinner who would they be?
Dad (if I didn’t I would never hear the end of it); Herve This (what a character); and my wife (any chance I get to have dinner with her I’ll take).
Photography: Trevor King @ DLM Shot on Location @ Biota Dining.