The Yak sits down with Chef James Viles – he of Australia’s top eatery, Biota Dining – to talk peeves, Marco Pierre White and his link-up with Sunday’s Beach Club at The Ungasan Clifftop Resort.
Let’s cut to the basics of name, birthplace and errr… shoe size.
James Viles, born in Paddington (Sydney) and shoe size is 10. However, my right foot can go to a 10.5 … my mom tells me that’s normal!
First time to Bali was when? And who with?
It was on my own when I was a younger chef, I came for a job interview. I can remember it being so diverse and vibrant.
Irreplaceable memory of that first visit?
I think it was eating in a warung for the first time. A very real experience. It was tasty though, I also remember the beautiful place that is Ubud.
What were you up to in life in general at that time?
I was a young chef, no commitments, no family and no wife. And definitely no business. I was eager for new things and to cement myself around another culture.
Cities you’ve lived-in and why?
They have all been for work. I have been cooking since I was 14 (so only 10 years, I wish). I’ve lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, Oman, Melbourne and Sydney. So many wonderful and cultural experiences that I believe have given me the tools I have today. I enjoy new experiences, we learn and develop every day with them.
When, who and what made you decide to expand the “James Viles” brand here on the island?
I holiday here every year with my family. I enjoy the dining scene and enjoy the people (it doesn’t have much to do with the weather at all). I met Steve [Cain, owner of The Ungasan] through my photographer. It was a natural fit that didn’t seem forced or contrived. This is important in business.
I’m sure I heard somewhere that men cannot multi task. Please breakdown for us what it is you are currently creating and / or involved with?
I’m sure I heard you need a hearing aid! We are currently developing the entire food and beverage offering at The Ungasan and Sundays. We are also working on locating ingredients native to the lands in Bali and will work closely in order to showcase these on the menus. We have some special guest chef dinners coming up at The Ungusan, that also include a beach brunch the next morning.
Challenges of sourcing ingredients in Bali?
This is everything in life that’s worthwhile, if you want epic SH*&% you need epic people. I think we have some of the best people around us at The Ungusan, from Steve, the owner to Melissa, the GM. Their support is amazing. Ryan and Marthada, the guys that run the operation for me, are the real deal. They work with growers and suppliers on a daily basis. At Biota we have a zero import rule and zero waste management system that we work with. These two things are very important if we as a society would like longevity.
Name your top pet peeves.
My pet peeves are the word ‘can’t’ . . . find a way . . . and waste. Don’t waste anything. It’s lazy, selfish and greedy.
What do you like about the products that you can get here?
I love the fruit, the leaves, the wild turmeric, the torch ginger growing wild on the side of the mountain road, the raw cacao pods, the bananas, the jackfruit . . . I’m not sure about the avocados, I’m still hunting those down, they are a must. I love the tuna. Like all ingredients, it’s about the supply chain logistics, how they are handled and kept before they arrive. This is what we are focussing on now.
Name your favourite herb.
Shiso. I love shiso, fresh and fried.
Whose dish do you love to recreate and what is it?
It’s winter now at home. I used to work for Marco Pierre White, and he used to make Pierre Hoffman’s pigs trotters stuffed with morels and truffles. So bloody good.
Shirtmaker, shoemaker, watchmaker. Name your chosen ones in that order…
I’m a pretty casual kind of guy. Assembly linen, Nike, Oris.
James, thanks for your time. We’ll be checking back with you to see what other plans are in the pipeline for you and Sundays and The Ungasan Clifftop Resort in Uluwatu.