LA Chef James Trees

(Originally published January 16, 2013 on Examiner.com).

Note since this article was originally published Chef trees has worked on numerous other projects

What’s the one common denominator that all the chefs you’ve worked with have in common? In response to this question, Chef James Trees responded with just one word, “passion”.

After following a girl he admired into his high school’s home ec class only to discover how much he enjoyed cooking, Chef Trees (on twitter @JamesTrees) went onto work in the kitchens under the direction of a virtual who’s who of famous chefs as well as many other chefs who will or should be famous. Now after his most recent gig as Chef de Cuisine at Fig in Santa Monica under Chef Ray Garcia, James Trees is stepping out from behind the curtain into the foreground with a version of his own concept “Treehouse” as a short four day run starting this Thursday, January 17th, 2013 at Square One Dining in Silver Lake on Fountain Avenue [Note profile from last year, in 2014 James will be popping up on Jan. 5th at Scratch Bar for Scratch Bar’s “Open Mic Nights” on Sunday nights currently scheduled through March].

Trees’ concept, with its contemporary American cuisine, is both chef and ingredient driven. Aside from the chef’s take on his ingredients, what will differentiate his concept from others in this category is its approach to service with accessible community meals instead of happy hours as well as a chef driven “layer less” front of house without any servers or food runners; the chef and his cooks will be running all the plates to the guests plus have updated table side presentations and plating, thus bringing the connection from the restaurant to the guest much closer. For the Square One event, not all aspects of his concept’s service will be fully implemented, but this venue- being a “culinary incubator”- will be the perfect vehicle for the chef’s potential partners to better understand his concept as well as taste his food.

This concept’s cuisine and service both reflect and incorporate much of what James has learned since his first job at 15 years of age as an unpaid intern at the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas. This internship started as a 3 hour part time gig while James was finishing high school, but quickly became a 12 hour day doing whatever was required in the kitchen and then ultimately a full time job as a prep cook. As the youngest cook ever hired at the Mirage, Trees learned how to shuck peas, make sauces and “do everything” from the two chefs he was stationed between chefs Luke Palladino and Alex Stratta.

Though Trees’ mother wanted James to go to college, so off he went to the premiere culinary school in the US the C.I.A. in Hyde Park, NY for its two year program plus an internship. That internship was again with Luke Palladino at Todd English’s Olives Aspen (now closed). After this internship was over James next moved to NYC and worked very long hours and his way through the kitchen at different stations in Chef Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin. Though living in NYC on a young station’s chef salary wasn’t very viable even when sharing an apartment and sleeping on a sofa. So Trees next returned to his home town, Vegas. Here he worked at Chef Michael Mina’s Aqua under chef Mark LoRusso at the Bellagio (now known as Michael Mina’s) becoming a master cook.

After switching over to the hotel side of service and becoming the youngest sous chef ever at the Bellagio at 21 years of age, Trees joined some of his school buddies opening up Bradley Ogden’s new restaurant at Caesar’s Palace. In 2003, Ogden’s restaurant won best new restaurant in America. During that year Bradley was hands on in the restaurant every day. Trees notes Bradley’s “a great cook.” He also did stints with Jacques van Staden at Alize and Alex Stratta again before doing a month long stage atHeston Blumethal’s Fat Duck in Britain when it was rated the best restaurant in the world.

After that stage foreshortened due to bureaucracy, James than rejoined Chef Mina where he spent the next five years opening five restaurants as the Corporate Sous Chef before becoming Chef de Cuisine at Mina’s Restaurant XIV. James later also worked for Gordon Ramsay on Ramsay’s television shows “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen” before taking his last job with Ray Garcia at Fig Restaurant in Santa Monica.

The above includes only a very brief overview of Chef Trees’ resume. It isn’t inclusive: Some great though not as famous chefs were left out like his “Jewish mother” Akasha Richmond at Akasha. Trees learned something different from each and every single chef he worked with along the way. Ogden especially made a huge impression regarding not screwing up ingredients as well as having ingredient driven food done well and in season.

After working with Ramsay again, Trees also had a lot of options as to where he wanted to work next but chose the Los Angeles region and Fig Restaurant, in particular, because of what Chef Garcia was and is still doing coincided with what Tree wanted to do.

Though Chef Trees now is at that point in his career where he feels he’ll be happiest doing his own thing rather than again work within the confines of what others want to do. He wants to do a real local Los Angeles restaurant, a community restaurant (since one currently doesn’t exist); where his cooks are better paid since they’re taking home the tips. In the fun environment he envisions, the cooks are running the plates and describing them, plus doing thing like deboning fish table side. He wants to modernize plus make more fun what Chef Marco Pierre White was doing in the 1980’s “…where everything was done out of the cart and everything was silvered…”

Chef Trees’ service, running only from this Thursday January 17th, 2013 through Sunday January 20th, 2013 will only implement some of what he foresees in his permanent home. This collaboration at this location has some limitations that won’t allow him to fully apply everything he intends to do with Treehouse.

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