10 Minutes With: James Cathcart, Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs

The  Staff Canteen

With today’s chef shortage at an all time high it’s difficult to find, and more importantly, keep hold of talented young chefs, that’s where relief chefs like James Cathcart can help.

On Thursday, April 6, James can be seen on Channel 4’s new show, Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs which follows a group of rapid-response cooks as they race to troubled restaurants across the U.K. In the show, James joins his fellow peers as they race against time to tackle inexperienced kitchens armed with just their knives and culinary skill.

The Staff Canteen caught up with James to find out more about what it takes being a relief chef, how he handles working in ‘challenging’ kitchens and why he hopes appearing on the show will score him a date with former I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! contestant, Jorgie Porter.

James Cathcart
James Cathcart 

James’s fascination with food started from a young age when his family moved to a working farm in Surrey. His first taste of the industry came with a part time job working in a local Indian restaurant. Originally setting his sights on becoming a head chef, James found settling in one place was not quite for him. That’s when he found being a relief chef would allow him to explore the rich culinary world around him whilst giving him more free time for himself, or so he thought.

“To begin with it was a great way of bringing back a work/life balance. To have the option to keep a weekend free to see friends or family is a rare thing in the hospitality trade. It did not quite work out like that for the first year!” He continued: “I did not want to turn any work down just in case there was a period of no bookings, so I ended up working for a year straight with no holidays, oops!”

The relief chef circuit has allowed James to work closely with several inspiring chefs and to form his own unique style. After speaking with master chef, Massimo Bottura, James realised that to achieve his culinary dreams he needed to develop his own personal selection of dishes and help re-inspire restaurants.

James particularly enjoys the personal development the role offers from working in an array of different environments on a regular basis.

He said: “Imagine what goes through your mind on the first day at work; you are nervous, more alert and pushing yourself to come across professionally while tackling whatever task you’re given. To be the best you can and fit in well with your co-workers, and then over the weeks you settle in. In the relief chef industry, we go through that process at least once a week if not more!”

James Cathcart quoteOver the years James has developed a wealth of knowledge from working at various 5 star hotels and restaurants but it’s also the smaller, niche pubs and restaurants which have also taught James a thing or two about being a relief chef.

>>> Read more about the chef shortage here

“I wouldn’t have created half of the things I have were it not for random jobs like opening a cycle cafe, or meeting a Catalonian kitchen porter in a pub in Kent who showed me his mother’s croquette recipe. I would not have refined certain cooking methods without seeing how 30/40 different chefs from all over the country do it. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to soak up all this information and share the knowledge through my work as a relief chef.”

The opportunity to appear on the channel 4 show came about whilst James was working on developing his own food based television programmes.

“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 for a month or so about what my trade was like.”

In the show three relief chefs are pushed to their limits as they take over unfamiliar kitchens with dissatisfied chefs and inexperienced staff. James is called upon by a busy midlands pub, The Crown, to help churn out dishes within a short space of time.

He said: “The Crown was one of the jobs where I’d wish I’d had more than a couple of days at the site. I encountered a few problems that we addressed.”

One of the more underlying issues James faced at The Crown was the lack of training which led to one young trainee, Alex Wykes, making the tough decision to not only leave the pub, but the trade altogether.

James Cathcart
James Cathcart 

“I see it happen a lot”, James said. “For me, commis chefs/trainee chefs need to be inspired, nurtured and pushed in the right way. I still talk with Alex today and I feel for him as he got thrown in at the deep end with minimal training.”

Being a relief chef is all about being available last minute and getting thrown into a kitchen you have never worked in before with a team you have never met. It’s a challenging role to play but James has a motto that helps to keep him motivated.

“'Don't take it personally, just take it seriously' springs to mind," says James. “Kitchens can be challenging in different ways. I have been fortunate that the majority of places have been built on good systems of practice. If they’re not, then as long as I can get the clients to understand why, and get the green light to bring in said practices, then all is going to be ok.”

When asked what he wants to gain from appearing on the show James said: “A date with Jorgie Porter! Seriously, I'm gaining so much knowledge working on this project I couldn't want more...well maybe just a drink with Jorgie Porter.”

Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs is a production by Double Act for Channel 4 and will be aired on Thursday, April 6. #emergencychefs

By Michael Parker


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th April 2017

10 Minutes With: James Cathcart, Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs