James E. Versfelt – Hotel Executive Chef at Shelborne South Beach
James Versfelt was born in Dallas (Texas) and graduated from University with a BA in Political Science. Rather attending a culinary school he just started working. First he became a Sous Chef at an Italian restaurant. Now he is working as a Hotel Executive Chef at Shelborne South Beach in Miami!
Today you are Executive Chef Miami with lots of experiences as a chef in different positions before. You career started in another area, with political science from university. What drove you to become a chef?
The welcoming kitchen. Where I grew up in, my mother’s kitchen. A sense of order. A place where my drive to control and effect everything around me could be seen as a positive character trait not negative. A place where I could be me, and only be judged by those around me on the merit of my work not who or what they thought I was from the outside. In essence a place where I could control and shape my destiny daily through the amount of effort and commitment I applied to my craft daily and be ultimately rewarded by satisfaction in and of itself.
Where does your passion for cooking come from?
My mother, my family, my upbringing living overseas as a child and traveling around the world. A sense of daily adventure and challenge.
Which cooking school did you visit?
Did not attend culinary school. Attended university the apprenticed with 2 master chefs from New Orleans.
Florida – especially Miami Beach – has been and is your district as a chef. What makes this place so special for a chef?
Challenge and opportunity. Great products to work with if you search to find it. Raw talent work force that requires daily efforts to grow. Amazing climate and seafood. Yearly tourists, great economy for food, excellent wages and jobs if you’re a hungry go getter.
Within Florida – does Miami has some very own special dishes?
Yes, many adopted Spanish and Caribbean influences, especially Cuban cuisine. Puerto Rico too along with some good old American traditions.
Ropa vieja, pan con bistec, shrimp pilau, lionfish poboy, guava, mamey, tamarind, etc.
Where do you get your inspirations for new dishes from?
The weather, the market, the holiday traditions, experience and travels, my belly, smelling foods in the pan.
The great and trendy topic Urban Farming started in the US. Do you think Urban Farming has as well the potential to supply restaurants in the future?
Yes, I do and feel strongly about farming, growing foods and be self-sustaining as a culture.
“It’s never boring but you need persistence, patience, and humor to survive” – James Versfelt about being a chef
What are the latest trends at Miami’s chef/kitchen scene?
Whatever New York or San Francisco did 5 years ago but with Miami ingredients and cultural dynamics.
The cooperation to local producers of food becomes very important for chefs. Do you have as well some close relation to local food producers?
Yes, very much so. I have worked with a handful of farmers and artisanal food vendors/creators for over a decade or more.
How would you describe your own cooking style line today?
My feet are Rooted in the traditions of the past from my mother’s influences and my mentors while my head is in the future of now thinking and dreaming of how to improve and perfect what I do daily in my kitchen.
What are your most and less favourite ingrediencies?
Most: Raw Cheeses, raw milk, raw honey, tamarind, heirloom local pork and beef, bacon, sausages, tasso, coleman’s mustard, horseradish root, vinegars especially Xeres Sherry, pimenton, pimiento, good live bread, artisanal beer, organic wine, tellicherry peppercorns, hot peppers, Tabasco, pimento cheese, grits, fried okra, sandwiches….
Least: guava, passionfruit, bananas, uni, Heinz ketchup, watermelon, …..
Can you share some of your actual recipes with us?
Unfortunately, hard to do they are mostly all in my head. Come and cook with me sometime!
What is the best about being a chef?
Having fun every day with new challenges, it’s never boring but you need persistence, patience, and humor to survive.
Lots of chefs would also like to work in Florida. What’s your recommendation to them? Start with a big group or better with some smaller local restaurants?
Start with a big group so you make sure they don’t go out if business over night and you still have a job tomorrow!
If you could choose any place in the world you have not been yet, where would you like to work as a chef for some time?
Basqueland Spain, Crete/Sardinia/Sicily, Lima Peru, Copenhagen Denmark, Iceland, Alaska, China, Vietnam, Madagascar.
Thank you very much, James!