In anticipation of July 22, the day James will cook for an elitist crowd of heavyweight gastronauts in Manhattan, he's been tinkering with his Beard House menu, creating an old-school/new-school multi-course board that bridges classic preparations with experimental molecular gastronomy methods. "The menu that I'm doing in New York is really fun -- foie gras cotton candy with the buffalo tenderloin, black truffle chips and a macadamia nut powder, a lobster cloud and coconut caramel dust -- but it's sensible, too," says James, who began dabbling in the chemistry of cooking soon after he joined 1515 as an executive sous chef in 2009.
"The chef before me, Chris Laramie, was doing a little bit of molecular gastronomy when I came on board, and I started slow, doing things like molecular caviar balls," recalls James. By the time he'd become the executive chef, he was making stabilizers, powders and thickening agents, and getting up close and personal with liquid nitrogen. "I really dig this stuff," admits the California native who did time at the Broadmoor, Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort, French 250 and the Palm before taking over the kitchen at 1515 -- a gig he calls "a ton of fun."
But while James loves dabbling in molecular gastronomy, he hates the name. "I wish someone would come up with something better to call it," he sighs. "When you hear people say 'molecular gastronomy,' it makes everyone think about just the chemistry and science, and while that's certainly part of it, it's also just as much about cooking from the heart."
In the following interview, James talks not just about the Beard House, but Miracle Fruit tongue trips, his obsession with cheeseburgers, the technical intricacies of a microwave, and why he thinks Alinea is the best restaurant in America.