His drive to source the perfect ingredient has even led him to make his own beer – Two Chefs Ale. Together with Andrew Pern, his old friend from The Star Inn (plus a little help from the Great Yorkshire Brewery), they make two session ales. A golden blonde summer beer lightly flavoured with local honey and lemon thyme from The Star Inn’s garden and a darker, winter ale with a touch of Christmassy cinnamon and nutmeg. As well as selling these beers in their respective restaurants, these traditional British flavours also make it into the food. Says James: “We cook with it, we make gravy with it, we braise beef in it, all sorts”, not to mention his Two Chefs Ale Bread, where the yeasty, malty flavours of the beer work particularly well.
As well as championing suppliers, James Mackenzie is enthusiastic about both his young kitchen brigade and future generations of workers. “Treating your staff well” is extremely important to him, “everybody not working 100 hours each a week and being fair to them…you get a lot more out of people like that” he says.
But it is those young people who haven’t quite made it into the kitchen that James Mackenzie has focused on more recently, “not just people who are at college or young commis chefs… I’m very keen on bringing on the next generation… encouraging people into our industry as well” he told us. To this end James and Kate run their own competition, The Golden Apron, for 14-19 year olds who may be considering a career in the kitchen but are put off by old stereotypes. “It’s kind of dismissing some of their fears about a real kitchen, they see that Gordon Ramsey’s berating people and shouting and not every kitchen’s like that, especially not modern kitchens… I had that done to me when I was younger and that, I’m not saying it’s not pressured, and I’m not saying that I don’t shout and things, but it’s about treating your staff well… encouraging young people into the industry…helping to inspire the next generation of chefs”.
The three finalists in this competition get to cook with James in his kitchen, with the top prize being a work placement with food suppliers Cranswick, working on their Sainsbury’s account with the new product development team. Says James: “This is a great opportunity for youngsters across Yorkshire to work with some great local produce and show what can be achieved”. And what a role model James Mackenzie is for this kind of cooking – the bar has been set pretty high.