Recently we were introduced to Chef James Diack, owner of Coobs in Parkhurt, Johannesburg. Chef James has launched his second restaurant, The National in Parktown North. We simply had to get to know him a little better.
Coobs is one of South Africa’s most-loved bistro’s. For fans of food and wine, Coobs provides a delicious seasonal menu and a wine list featuring some of South Africa’s best boutique wines.
The restaurant is one of only two in South Africa which can accurately trace the provenance of its food – meaning, Coobs knows exactly where their ingredients come from. Owner of Coobs, James Diack takes pride in ensuring that his menu highlights the part of the dish that comes off the farm. Dishes are fresh, simple and show off the quality of the ingredients.
Open for three years, Coobs is 85-90% self-sufficient, supplied by Brightside in the Magaliesberg, a farm which has been in the Diack family for years – and it’s where James grew up.
Two three-hectare veggie gardens supply the restaurant with herbs, vegetables and fruit – it even makes its own ricotta. The farm also supplies Coobs’ now legendary acorn-fed wild board, lamb, duck and the occasional pigeon or guinea fowl.
Coobs is rated by www.travelstart.co.za as one of 10 Johannesburg Restaurants You Must Visit In The City Of Gold.
The National, in Parktown North is positioned as a speakeasy and every-day eatery, and features a delicious array of smoky Texan, South American and other flavourful dishes to provide rustic comfort to any palate. The National’s menu includes an assortment of flavour profiles and dishes including burgers, paella, hot bowls and pulled-pork buns. There’s also an entire section of the menu inspired by the restaurant’s Texan Reverse Smoker built on Brightside farm.
“Coobs and The National are now two of the only restaurants in South Africa which can accurately trace the provenance of their food – meaning we know exactly where our ingredients come from,” explains Diack. “It also means our menus are seasonal and based on what’s available from the farm.”
Q&A with Chef James:
1. What food trends of the moment do you absolutely love and why?
I am loving two food trends at the moment. One is the smoking of food – I have a Reverse Texan Smoker that you will see us regularly firing up at Coobs, and The National. It fits in with our love of slow cooking, and it adds a depth of flavour to the seasonal ingredients we get off our farm in the Magaliesberg.
The second is pickling and fermenting – I’m doing a lot of this with Asian ingredients such as Chinese cabbage and daikon. It adding a whole new component to our food.
2. When it comes to creativity in the kitchen, what advice would you give novices?
Start with quality ingredients and simple techniques, and grow from there. Don’t try a deconstructed, molecular dish before you can make perfect scrambled eggs.
3. Fresh ingredients are important in your cooking. Do you have a favourite?
Right now, my absolute favourite ingredient is broad beans. They have an awesome, earthy flavour and can be used in so many different ways.
4. What is an absolute must-have item in your kitchen?
A really good, sharp knife is a must-have and an absolute essential.
5. What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever been given?
Richard Carstens told me many years ago, “Go simple and be perfect. Choose your flavours carefully rather than throw as much on a plate as you can and hope it ticks some boxes.”
6. Of all the places in the world you love to go to, where is your best place to dine?
For me personally, Spain. I absolutely love it – from the simple rustic tapas that you’ll find in a hole-in-the-wall town, to some of the world’s finest eateries. There is just something about Spain that makes me happy.
7. Farmer’s market or supermarket?
Farmers’ market. Reason being, farmers’ market people are learning how to cook seasonally again and discovering the joys of having certain ingredients for shorter periods, rather than the same food week in week out.
8. What’s the one meal you eat most often?
My beautiful wife, Robyn, makes the most amazing roast chicken. She serves this to me with vegetables – whatever we get from the farm – and we eat this together when I can get a night off. For me, it’s my happy place, especially with a cracking glass of white wine.
9. Have you ever discovered a brilliant new way to make something as a result of a flop? What was it?
Yes! I once completely messed up a brownie mix. There are rumours that I forgot to add the flour… but it turned into the most insane mud cake and was an absolute favourite on one of my opening menus at Coobs.