James Gaag | Executive chef
James Gaag, La Colombe’s Executive Chef, has already established a strong name for himself in the local and international restaurant industry – all by the age of 30.
His passion for cooking was ignited at a young age whilst growing up in a family where meals were always events and a vibrant kitchen was the centrepiece of the home. His mother, Gaie Gaag is a teacher at the renowned Silwood Kitchen, which is where James enrolled for a one-year course after completing his A Levels, to ostensibly mark time and contemplate his future. The lure of running his own tight knit kitchen brigade and his evolving love for creating culinary masterpieces enticed him to complete the three-year course, eventually graduating top of his class.
As part of mastering his craft, he has been fortunate to have worked in many of the top restaurant kitchens across South Africa, including Jardine, Greenhouse, Terroir, Maze and Nobu. In 2010, James joined La Colombe as a third-year student and through hard work and determination rose through the ranks to the position of sous chef. During this time he also competed in and won several culinary competitions including the Sunday Times Student Challenges and Showcook Inter-school’s competition.
Looking to elevate his skill and gain international experience, James left La Colombe in 2013 for England where he toiled at legendary chef Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford.
In 2014, James returned to South Africa and La Colombe, this time to lead the kitchen as head chef. During this time, the iconic restaurant relocated from its previous home at Constantia Uitsig to its new location at Silvermist Wine Estate on the slopes of the Constantia mountains. Under his tenure, La Colombe has been recognised as runner up in South Africa’s Eat Out Awards for 2 consecutive years, as well as placing 76th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards – a tremendous achievement for James and his team.
When pushed on his food philosophy, James comments, “It’s all about flavour and the finest ingredients. Each dish needs to be seasonal, immediately delicious and inviting, not overworked or overcomplicated. Plating-up is where we get to express our creativity and present a concise story on the plate. A seamless alignment of balanced flavours, visual appeal, the freshest ingredients and world class service is what invites our loyal guests to return.”