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Meet James Cochran!

James Cochran is one of the UK's most exciting chefs, winning Great British Menu in 2018 and running Islington restaurant, 12:51. If you don’t know, we hope this will help you to get to know. We’ve been food friends for a while, so it was an absolute pleasure to recently collaborate with him on our new Scotch Bonnet Jam – a fruity, hot chilli jam recipe which has been with him since he was a kid. Get it here.

With roots from St Vincent in The Caribbean and Glasgow, Scotland, his dishes are big on flavour. 12:51 is based in Islington. It’s fine dining, “but not stuffy and elitist” as James puts it - his favourite dish on the menu is his fried chicken! If you’re in London, pay them a visit.

We’ve chatted to James about Scotch Bonnet Jam, his roots, influences and weird food combos. Meet James Cochran…

Let’s get going, and this is the most standard chef interview question ever, how did you first get into cooking?!

My mum got me into cooking from a very young age. I was always around food, be it at home or out in the community. She was from the Caribbean and was very determined I knew about my heritage - and food was a big part of that.

You're going to have to explain the theory behind the 12:51 name?

I did a pop up at a pub run by my now business partner Dan. Afterwards we sat having one too many drinks and there was a point when we both knew we wanted to work together and open a restaurant. By chance the song 12:51 by the Strokes came on at that exact moment - and the rest is history.

Name some of your biggest food inspirations?

Anthony Bourdain, Grant Achatz, Mark Stubbs, and Brett Graham. I've picked up influences from all over but these four have had a big impact on me. Anthony Bourdain and Grant Achatz from afar, Brett Graham and Mark Stubbs first-hand in the kitchen as I was learning my trade at Wheeler's Oyster Bar, The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms.

Who should we watch out for in the food scene right now?

Is it too much to say, myself?...Seriously, I'm loving what John and Desiree Chantarasak are doing at AngloThai, traditional Thai recipes with seasonal British ingredients. And the boys at Fallow know how to take something humble and make it sing - but also myself. Haha.

How are you describing your cooking style?

I'm trying to represent my roots on a plate. Parents from St Vincent in the Caribbean and Glasgow, Scotland, raised in Whitstable on the Kent coast - all that is there to see in my style. As a restaurant it's fine-dining, but we are not stuffy or elitist. My food is for everyone, and everyone should be able to experience good food. 

Tell us about your Scotch Bonnet Jam?

The recipe has been with me for a long time, obviously influenced by my love of Caribbean cuisine. I used it on Great British Menu and it's on my fried chicken dish at 12:51 since we opened in 2018 - it's the most popular dish on the menu. People came to the restaurant and would go crazy for it, so we knew we had to bottle it up. It took years of graft but to get to the point when it's actually on sale feels amazing.

What’s your your go-to cookbook?

I think it's good not to just stick to one source but I turn to Alinea by Grant Achatz, Pastry by Michel Roux and Thomas Keller's The French Laundry, Per Se for inspiration.

Favourite dish on the 12:51 menu?

My jerk fried chicken with corn nuts, coriander and Scotch Bonnet Jam. It couldn't be anything else. I'm sure it's not what many people would think of as fine-dining, but it is what I'm all about - it's unpretentious, but such a special dish. It's not your average fried chicken, the flavours and quality of ingredients take it to another level. It has been on every menu we've ever had on, and it always will be. It represents me.

What’s up next for James Cochran?

During lockdown we had to close the restaurant, so we used that time to start Around the Cluck. It's my gourmet twist on the classic fried chicken shop. I'm taking fried chicken to the next level. We were doing delivery from 12:51 and people loved it, so now we want to give it its own site. It'll be soon, I can't say much more now, but watch this space.

Name one dish everyone should be able to cook?

A roast dinner. Everyone should be able to get a good roast out. I love a good roast, as most people do. It's a British institution! I think it's one thing people should be able to do, and they're not that hard to do well, so no excuses!

Thoughts on the street food/pop-up food movement that seems to be everywhere right now?

To be honest it has become a bit over-saturated. You can't move for street food nowadays. Don't get me wrong, it's a really positive thing they are bringing different types of food and cuisines to people and places that might not have experienced them before and it's a platform for up-and-coming businesses - but it’s getting hard to dissect the good from the great. 

Favourite places to eat in London besides 12:51?

I lived in South London for 15 years and Silk Road in Camberwell stands out. Their Xinjiang style of Chinese cooking offers many unusual things that you don’t normally see in Chinese restaurants in this country. Everything is packed full of flavour. Drinks are BYO and the food is cheap – spend twenty quid and you’re full.

We’ve all got one, but give us the weirdest food combo that you love?

I like to experiment with lots of different food combinations, Sometimes the weirdest ones, you'll be thinking, no way will this work but then they do. I think if you don't try, how will you ever know. Right now, I'm vibing off crab and blue cheese, it's a banging combo, believe me.

Why choose to work with Sauce Shop?

Who better than the company who makes the best sauces in the game? I knew they use no additives in their sauces - it's all natural baby! And I love that. They focus on straight up flavour, and so do I. It was the perfect fit. My Scotch Bonnet Jam has to taste exactly how I make it, or I wouldn't let people buy it - and they nailed it. Plus James and Pam are legends, so that helps.

Sauce Shop X 12:51 by Chef James Cochran Scotch Bonnet Jam is out now.
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