10 minutes with James Holah , executive sous chef, Selfridges

The Staff Canteen

James Holah is executive sous chef at Selfridges and is the founder of 'What's for Dinner?' - a charity pop up restaurant initiative. 

James Holah has worked for the likes of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey’s Claridge’s and The Ritz amongst others. He is currently working as executive sous chef at Selfridges who have afforded him the opportunity to take time away from the busy kitchen to undertake charitable endeavours.

The Staff Canteen spoke to James about his forthcoming pop up charity event 'What's for Dinner?' which aims to raise money and awareness for his local food bank.

food bank credit the independent
Food bank - credit The Independent

It’s amazing how one day can make such a difference in your life. This was certainly the case for chef James Holah who was offered a paid day off from his busy role as executive sous chef at Selfridges to volunteer or support a charity event. Fast forward a few years and James and his colleagues decided to take this initiative to the next level in the shape of a charity pop up restaurant called 'What's For Dinner?' to raise much-needed funds for his local food bank.

 “I have ambitions to make this an annual event until food banks are no longer needed," explained James. "That would be a great success in my eyes.”

'What’s for Dinner?’ will take place at The Steak Restaurant in Hatch End on Monday, July 2nd 2018. Diners at the pop up will enjoy a four-course meal teamed with wine. It is headed up by James and his wife Sarah (who was formally General Manager at The Ledbury) and their aim is to ‘create London’s greatest pop up’.

James said: “It would be amazing to see 'what’s for dinner?', popping up all around the country and restaurants actively engaging and supporting their local communities in the way The Steak Restaurant has done.”

Why are food banks becoming so essential?

Food banks are fast becoming an essential resource for the thirteen million people who live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Harrow Food Bank (who James is raising funds for) has helped nearly 2000 families in the Harrow area with emergency food parcels

Seeing the success of various pop up events on the roof of Selfridges showed James just what can be achieved with an event of this kind, so when it came to utilising his skills and expertise, a pop up seemed to be the best way of raising money and awareness.

pop up event on the roof of Selfridges

James said: “We are absolutely going to push ourselves to deliver the highest standards we can on the night, we won’t be taking our foot off the gas that’s for sure. The event itself will be uniquely challenging as the menu will be devised on the day completely made from food items that have been donated, so we literally won’t know, ‘what’s for dinner?’ until the day.”

An ambitious and challenging event

The magnitude of the challenge is not lost on James, he said: “What we are attempting is very ambitious. Sarah and I have worked at the highest level of the London restaurant scene and we are aiming to provide the very best of food and service on the night. We want the event to be remembered, talked about and successful, that will leave an appetite for our guests to do it again.”

The prospect of having to create a menu on the day based on unknown ingredients is somewhat daunting, but James is confident and this is largely down to being joined by some fabulous cooks from around the country who will be assisting with the creation of the entire menu.

“I have a few ideas for my courses," said James. "Depending on what I get! But we will need to think fast and work hard on the day to get it right.”

Getting support

There has certainly been a positive response from both the local community as well as suppliers and local businesses who have volunteered their time or their products and services.

“I have been absolutely humbled by the response. I have been overwhelmed by the offers of support I have received from some of the partners I have had over the years. Pledges of support have come from all over, to name but a few; Natoora will be donating their second selection vegetables that day, Zonin wines will be donating their bin ends and Aubrey Allen have pledged to donate some protein to the cause. All the food items are things that would otherwise have gone to waste.”

james quoteA great night out 

As well as enjoying a delicious four-course dinner with paired wine, diners will also learn more about how the nature of food banks and how their contributions will be used to change the lives of people within their communities that have fallen into crisis. There are also some We have also had great prizes to be won in the evening's auction which will not only be huge fun but will hopefully yield even more donations too.

How you can get involved

If you would like to get involved, James encourages you to buy a ticket and come down.

He said: “There are many ways in which people can help support, you can donate directly to the food bank nearest to you, donate a prize for the auction, come down and join the team for the evening or even if it's volunteering at your local food bank. Sometimes just a cup of tea with the organisers there makes a huge difference. These guys work very hard with limited resources to provide the service they do. Just knowing that someone cares about what they are doing can make a massive difference and helps people keep going.”

What happened next?

We are delighted to report that as a result of the 'What's for Dinner' pop up event, over £5000 was raised for Harrow Food Bank. James was thrilled with not only the amount raised but also the fantastic atmosphere on the night. He says: "The atmosphere in the room was amazing with people singing and chanting, like a massive party. All in all in was a fantastic night and we raised a lot of money that will go directly to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society."

The premise of the event was for James and his team to cook a selection of dishes from food waste and he did not know what ingredients he would have available to him. In the end, his menu was:


The vegetables were all donated from Natoora, they were no longer considered, saleable due to their appearance so would have been thrown out. This is true of all the vegetables used on the night.

The hummus was made from chickpeas that were also to be thrown away as the can was damaged in store and was served with bread rolls donated from Sally Clarke's bakery.


The asparagus was kindly donated by First Choice and the cheese fondue was made from a cheddar given to us by Neal’s yard dairy, it had a layer of green ash running through the middle of it that made it unsalable at their shop and would have been thrown away.

The scotch egg was made with mince provided by one of the chef’s (Sven Hanson Britt) own butchery from trimmings

This was served with Toasted beer donated by the amazing Hop & Vine bar in Ruislip. This beer is made from wasted bread and all the money goes to food waste charities.

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The rice had been salvaged from a restaurant that had recently shut down and the mushrooms were donated from the Wild Room as they were past their best and destined for the bin. The beef offcuts were donated from Aubrey Allen as was considered to be too tough ( James and his team slow cooked it until tender)



Piotr Wojick's dish of poached salmon, fishcake and curried mussels, was tricky to pull off with wasted food, so the fish was donated fresh from Capital Seafoods, however, the spices and vegetables were all salvaged items.

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The dessert was made from broken Easter eggs donated from Selfridges Food Hall and a marmalade James had made from discarded oranges skins (post juicing), the meringue was made from the liquid from the tin of chickpeas.


Service was led by my wife Sarah Holah, formerly GM of the Ledbury and Hibiscus and also included, Paulina Wojick (Piotr's wife) Assistant manager at the Harwood arms, Paddi Bradley from Selfridges and local volunteer Jenny Mccann ( who hadn’t waited on a table since she left university)

James explains that: "Justin, the  owner of the Steak restaurant helped us too and we also had Luca Antinoli from Zonin who donated all their bin end wines acting as a bit of a sommelier and explaining the wines to the guests."

Each table was also sponsored with a glass of champagne which had been donated by some of London's top establishments, such as The Ritz, Londrino, Marcus Wareing at The Berkely, Phil Howard at Elystan Street, Zavier Rousett from The Blanford Comptoir, and Jose Pizzaro.

By Emma Harrison


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Editor 11th May 2018

10 minutes with James Holah , executive sous chef, Selfridges