Chef James Martin has always enjoyed working with his hands; however, he fell in love with food on family trips to South Carolina. His family lived on farm land, raised their own chickens, grew their own vegetables, and also hunted. He saw food develop from farmto market to table and witnessed how it brought people together. A process and culture he still appreciates today. He looks up to chefs like the late Patrick Clarke, who shared a similar background and managed to give back while climbing the ranks. James has a culinary background in French cuisine but started out at age 15 in the fast food kitchens of Five Guys and Domino’s. When a chef told him cooking would never be for him after a two-week stint in a fine dining kitchen at age 16, he accepted the challenge.
Eventually culinary school would change his outlook on food: he was able to take the soul of the kitchens he grew up in, and the hustle of fast food, and not just apply the technique – the math and science of cooking – but also celebrate the many cultures that make up each dish. The first dish he ever created for a menu was a Ham hock and rice bean ravioli dish at Bourbon Steak under Chefs Micheal Mina and David Varley.
Since then Chef James has worked with Chef RJ Cooper at Vidalia, Chef Bruce Sherman at Northpond in Chicago, Chef Michael Mina at Bourbon Steak and Three Michelin Star Chef Jean Georges in New York City. He has headed his own pop-up District Supper (which ran at Prequel and Dinner Lab) and kitchens at Restaurant Nora (America’s first all-organic restaurant), Pamplona in Virginia, and Bistro Bis (landing the restaurant back on The Washingtonian’s Top 100 Restaurants after a two-year hiatus), Chicago’s A10 and Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits.
Today, James is working on defining his own culinary legacy– starting with Spanish cuisine. His first time traveling outside of the United States was his honeymoon trip to Madrid. He fell in love and it started a six-year journey diving deeper into Spanish cooking, eventually becoming the opening Executive Chef to a Spanish restaurant in Virginia and gradually tracing the ingredients of some of his favorite dishes from parts of Africa, to southern Spain, and even to Charleston, South Carolina. With an eye on honoring traditional dishes like the paella and some of the shared ingredients that have shaped many cultures and cuisines, he is venturing out with his wife to open his first restaurant concept, Bocadillo Market.