James Gaag | Executive chef
At the young age of 29, La Colombe’s Executive Chef, James Gaag, has already established a strong name for himself in the restaurant industry.
Growing up around food and in a kitchen is where his passion for cooking started. His mother, Gaie Gaag is a cooking, sugar craft and confectionary teacher at Silwood Kitchen which is where he was exposed to food and cooking in a professional way since living in South Africa. “I practically used to live at Silwood Kitchen and watched demos or played with the kitchen utensils in the classrooms while my mom taught,” comments James.
After completing his A Levels, he enrolled at Silwood Kitchen with the intention of it being a one year course whilst deciding what he really wanted to study, but from day one he completely fell in love with cooking and has never looked back. Whilst studying, James worked part-time in a café to put himself through cooking school where he graduated top of his class and was appointed ambassador for Silwood Kitchen.
Since then, his career has taken off with a bang. He competed in and won both the Sunday Times and Show Cook competitions as well as countless others. As part of his studies, he worked in many top restaurants in the country like Jardine’s, Greenhouse, Terroir, Maze and Nobu. In 2010 James joined La Colombe as a 3rd year student and through hard work and determination rose through the ranks to sous chef.
Looking to gain international experience, James left La Colombe in 2013 for England where he worked at legendary chef Raymond Blancs Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford.
In 2014 he returned to South Africa and La Colombe as head chef before they closed at Constantia Uitsig and moved the whole operation to its current location at Silvermist Wine Estate in Constantia. 2015 and 2016 saw La Colombe win the prestigious title of 2nd best restaurant in South Africa in the Eat Out Awards as well as 76th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards – a tremendous achievement for James and his team. Most recently, James was the first guest on Reuben Riffel’s Recipe For Success TV show.
Ending off, James comments, “When it comes to food, I believe that flavour comes first! Food needs to be immediately delicious and inviting, not overthought, overworked or overcomplicated. Flavour is paramount and key in making great food and also running a great kitchen. Making it look pretty is where we get to have a bit of fun as a chef, and yes we eat with our eyes first, but ultimately flavour is what makes the guests come back.”