For someone who has ‘Knight’ as part of his name, James Knight-Pacheco definitely lives up to the expression of it... truly gallant, partisan, and also a champion, with an illustrious and much-celebrated career in the kitchen.
This is what James calls the kitchen as his female-led family made up by his Grandmother, Mother, four Sisters, and lots of Aunts who always gathered here for everything. It is no brainer then to guess where he gets his love for Food and the Kitchen from.
He liked school, but absolutely loved cooking and so took up a job as a waiter for some extra pocket money. Whilst there he got to do small stints in the kitchen as well, which he thoroughly enjoyed and so what followed naturally was a formal three-year degree course in hospitality, post which he went on to become a college lecturer while also managing a pub. It is there that he soon realized that there was more to cooking than just simple pub food and so decided to turn to fine dining. The rest, as they say, is history.
There are credible and incredible feats that one has to accomplish to make it to the league of the Top 50 Most Influential People and Chef James seems to have done it all. It is an achievement not many can pull off with such élan. What is it that makes him worthy of sharing space with other star stalwarts?
He has had the fortune and opportunity to work at some of the most amazing places such as at the world-renowned Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons where he worked at every single section of the entire hotel & kitchen and with several internationally acclaimed chefs such as Michael Caines, Jason Atherton, Peter Gorton and Andre Garrett, including the admired Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, and Raymond Blanc.
He was also the runner up on BBC’s ‘The Restaurant Series’ in 2008, which then was followed by being covered on two of BBC’s other prime-time cooking shows ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ and ‘The Restaurant’ wherein he was tested for his mettle in the real world, as this event catered to a very demanding guest list and went on for well over 18 hours of continuous service!
He is also a competent presenter and adept in hosting events, wherein he has presented to audiences ranging in size from a small handful at intimate dinner parties to well over 3,000 people at many of the BBC Good Food Shows.
He has greatly enjoyed teaching at the swanky multi-award-winning Ashburton Cookery School and the Exeter Catering College, both in the United Kingdom where he not only taught but was geared up all the time gaining knowledge to know the tiniest details about the food he was cooking.
Chef James has also been featured in many international publications including The Ultimate Culinary Collection: 100 Recipes Personally Contributed by 100 Executive Chefs from 100 of the World’s Finest Hotels and Restaurants, compiled and written by Stuart Hopkins where he shared his delectable Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe.
He has worked at the world’s finest luxury hotels and restaurants including the double Michelin starred restaurant ‘The Square’ in the UK, ‘Sense of the Edge’ in Oman - winner of Best Restaurant Middle East 2012 – where he was chef de cuisine, leading the team at the plush Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort in Oman and now at the helm as the Executive chef at ME Dubai, located in the iconic Opus Tower by the revered late architect Zaha Hadid.
He has also been crowned as the ‘Taste New Zealand Chef of the Year 2017’ at The Pro Chef Middle East Awards, and also voted the ‘Executive Chef of the Year 2019’ at the Hotelier Middle East awards to which he said, “I feel privileged and am deeply humbled with all accolades I have received knowing the level of talent among my peers in the region.”
He has always managed to impress the judges where he uses his inventive, progressive, and intelligent style of cooking to delight his audience through inimitable experiences. He is also a role model to his team where he strives to carve a professional chef out of all his members teaching them the importance of thinking of food as a human experience.
As a leader Chef James is truly committed to balancing the brand service standards and financial goals of the brand as with being a fantastic manager to his people.
As Chef James readies himself to take up the role as the Executive Chef at ME by Melia at the Opus he feels there is a huge amount to offer to people. “It is an incredible gift to be here. It is a brilliant piece of architecture, an iconic landmark as it is the last piece of work by Zaha Hadid herself, where she has not only done the structure & exteriors and also the interiors so outstandingly well” he remarks.
Does he find this to be challenging?
This is yet another exciting phase for him. What he feels was more challenging was when he moved to the Middle East from the UK. He says as he recollects, “The culture, the habits were all so very different; also the way of working was very different in the two places; understanding different National Days, different faiths, different people that required a lot of adaptabilities.”
He has always loved pushing boundaries which reflects in his style of cooking too. Taking the classic and tweaking it so that they get a new avatar. Just like his food he too loves to evolve constantly. Also just like everyone, he too has his comforting moments where he loves to gorge of Thai food, his favourite being Thai Beef Salad.
For someone who is so in love with his culinary repertoire and also so busy with its many demands and commitments; he still finds the time and energy for other pursuits where he finds pleasure to rewind and recharge himself. He has studied music and enjoys it thoroughly; he takes pleasure in playing rugby as a sport, besides being an avid reader too.
He also runs a consultancy service where he is available to make use of his knowledge, experience, and expertise for any new or struggling restaurant looking to improve consistency, or simply looking to improve the efficiency in their kitchen.
He recently launched The Dubai Chefs Collective along with Chef Shane Born, where one can find the finest chefs from Dubai coming together on one platform to share their ideas, tips, tricks, and their own speciality recipes. With so many unbelievably talented & brilliant chefs in Dubai hailing from across the continents, this is one space that one cannot afford to miss.
His latest initiative is the James Knight-Pacheco (JKP) Podcast where he brings to the listeners inspiring stories of people within hospitality - their ups, their downs, and everything that they experienced in between and what it took to keep up in one of the most competitive, mentally and physically stressful industries in the world. You can tune in to it here JKP Podcast.
We hear you Chef James and are just intrigued to know what this ‘Knight’ will present us with next. Well, for now, his message to all of us is to never stop the learning. “Every day is a school day; be pushing yourself to learn & do more and be humble & kind always.”
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