As one of the youngest ever to be awarded a coveted chef’s hat in the Good Food Guide at the tender age of 23, James Viles has one of the most decorated and colourful careers an Australian chef can boast, with a résumé that would be the envy of anybody who’s ever dreamed of commanding a kitchen from farm to plate.
Drawing inspiration from seasonal, local produce, Viles’ iconic restaurant Biota Dining in Bowral has helped put regional NSW on the map as a serious culinary destination, all the while supporting local farmers and spreading the word about what makes Australian ingredients so legendary.
This racing season at Royal Randwick saw James Viles team up with butcher-to-the-stars Victor Churchill to represent a different state, the home of James Boag Premium Lager – Tasmania.
Using premium cuts from the renowned butcher, the canapés served up at the Harnessed By James Boag marquee at The Championship’s gourmet dining quarter, Little Sydney, reflected the ingredients and culinary attitudes of the Apple Isle, drawing inspiration from the surrounds of the famous Australian brewery, all the while acting as a perfect complementary match to the crisp, clean taste of James Boag Premium.
We caught up with James during the event and talked ingredients, beer and his restaurant.
Since earning your first chef’s hat to now you’ve enjoyed a very eclectic career path, taking you all over the world. What would you say has best prepared you for experiences such as this – working with specific products to create a unique flavour?
I think the most important thing is to be a listener and to question everything you do, we still have much to learn about Australian ingredients as a community and the only way we can do this is to get our hands dirty and spend time in mother nature.
I know you’ll hate having to choose, but what’s the number one thing our readers have to try when they check out the James Boag and Victor Churchill canapés at Little Sydney?
I think they should try the lemon tart with Wellington apiary honey, the honey is very special, it’s one of my favourite ingredients.
From Cape Grim cattle and career-defining ocean trout (read: Tetsuya’s) to a world-renowned dairy industry, Tasmania is well know for having a huge array of some of the best produce you can get. Do you have a personal favourite Tassie ingredient?
I love Wellington Apiary honey and I also love White Sea urchins from the waters of Tasmania, some of the best I’ve ever had. The wild plants in Tasmania both on land and in the ocean are very special as well.
And what about the goods you’ve been given to play with from Victor Churchill, anything that really stands out for you as being the best of the best?
With the canapés at Little Sydney, we really wanted to use quality ingredients that harnessed the essence of Tasmania for The Championships. I really enjoy the coastal saltbush in Tasmania; it tastes like apple skins and is totally different to the saltbush we get on the east coast of NSW.
When creating these dishes, did you find inspiration from the ingredients used in the production of the beer, and not just the flavours of the finished product i.e. hops, malt etc.?Certainly! I drew a lot of inspiration from the grains used in the production process, however I also draw inspiration from the history of James Boag and Tasmania’s natural beauty.
And what about using beer as an ingredient itself? Does it lend itself to anything more than a great fish batter?
It does make a great fish batter – however it also makes a great ice-cream, and also bread. During my trip to Tasmania with James Boag, we made a fresh damper with lashings of butter that had been whipped with the honey from wellington apiary (VERY TASTY)
James Boag is a refreshing, crisp lager – to what kind of flavours do you find it naturally lends itself?
I think it works well with BBQ calamari and charred items. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m always having a beer when I’m BBQ’ing.
Biota Dining is famous for regional NSW produce, what are the major differences between what you do in your restaurant and what you’ve done here, with Tasmanian ingredients, James Boag and Victor Churchill?
Not Much, BIOTA means – a balance of animal and plant life. This can and should be adapted in all approaches to cooking no matter what part of the world.
Biota got one hat in its first year, two in its second, and you’ve been propelled further and further since it opened with TV appearances, as well as the advancement of the restaurant itself, growing seedlings onsite in your own glasshouse and now with accommodation on offer – what’s next for James Viles?
I’m not sure, Biota is very special to me, its my life and I couldn’t ask for anything more. I do think that we should be more focused on food wastage and usage of ingredients. I just take each day as it comes, the main thing is that we all have fun and remember where we came from.
Photography by Lean Timms