Chef de Cuisine, Ciclo
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2011
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Cook in TRIO at Four Seasons Hotel Austin
- Cipollina, Austin; Asti Trattoria, Austin; Wink, Austin
- Dothan, Alabama, USA
- University of the South, Sewanee, Tennesse
- English, Spanish
Boiled peanut shells gently picked apart by a school of fish in the bay; the harsh clamour of squawking seagulls; pork ribs and white bread in the Dreamland parking lot on a sunny Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
If you ask Chef James Flowers about his first food memories, the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of southern small-town life cascade like a stack of old 35mm photos. Born and raised in southeast Alabama, meals were a daily centrepiece for the Ciclo Chef de Cuisine.
“I can remember riding in the back seat of our car on the way back from a road trip while my dad waxed poetic about the steaks he was going to cook when we got home,” says James. “Even the smell of wood or charcoal igniting gives me the chills sometimes.”
Growing up, James loved to follow his dad around and listen to the narrative of the cooking process, be it making crab cakes, pan-searing fresh gulf snapper, preparing a hot grill or learning how to properly season a ribeye. “He always had such a love for the process of cooking and the act of feeding the people around him,” says James.
A fascination with these descriptive narratives eventually led James to pursue an English degree at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. In between liberal arts study sessions, he indulged his creative side by joining a rock band. “Every ounce of free time was spent writing songs, clamouring for gigs and planning the elements of our stage show,” he says. “We knew that this was what we would do after college.”
Sure enough, they took the show on the road and landed in Asheville, North Carolina. Frequent touring led them all over the southeast, but life’s inevitable winds of change blew through and eventually the band broke up. For James, Austin became a beacon in the storm.
Once settled in the Texas capital, James happened on a small ad in the Daily Texan for an entry-level cook job at the popular West Austin restaurant, Cipollina. A few interviews later, he slipped on his first chef’s apron and began soaking up knowledge.
“I was totally green,” he laughs, thinking back to those first days. “I didn’t realise the amount of work that went into cooking on a professional level.”
Intent on improving his craft, James put his nose to the grindstone and dedicated every working moment to learning and experiencing more. Off the clock, he even began studying Spanish to better communicate with some of the members of his kitchen crew.
“I was totally hooked by the culture of the kitchen. People are rewarded based on the merit of their work and take pride in things like camaraderie, creativity and team ideology.”
With a desire to keep pushing forward, he took a job as a sous chef at Emmett and Lisa Fox’s Asti Trattoria in 2007. “They had such an inspiring philosophy toward simplicity, seasonality and the use of the best ingredients available,” says James.
A trip to Italy during his time at Asti was especially formative. “I watched our host family cook a chianini beef porterhouse on a cast-iron grill in their fireplace while enjoying wine grown fewer than five miles away. It was a climactic moment for me.”
James returned to Austin electrified by the culinary experience and ready for a new challenge. Within weeks, he took on a new job at Wink, one of Austin’s long time trailblazers of time-and-place creativity and eclectic Texas cuisine. Tasked with writing a new menu every day, the challenges at Wink forged his skills, not just as a cook, but as an aspiring chef.
It was also here that he met his wife and started a family. With a new paradigm in place, James set his sights on a much broader target: Four Seasons Hotel Austin and its busy restaurant, run by the inimitable Chef Elmar Prambs.
James joined Four Seasons as a cook in 2011, moving quickly into roles of greater responsibility from Chef de Partie to Sous Chef and, finally in July 2016, the lead position of Chef de Cuisine.
Now responsible for crafting the dinner menu in Ciclo in collaboration with world-renowned chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, James delights in adding unexpected ingredients – many influenced by his previous roles – to the restaurant’s signature dishes, from the homemade yuzokosho on the hickory-smoked ribeye to the bagna cauda that accompanies his sea bass.
“My cooking style has definitely been shaped over the past 15 years by Austin’s exploding culinary scene,” says James, who describes Ciclo as a modern Texas kitchen featuring locally inspired flavours and seasonal ingredients with a Latin influence.
Outside of work, James enjoys hanging out with his wife, Corey, who he insists has the best test tasting palate, and their two kids, Elliott and George. At home, they can be found swimming, riding bikes, playing scrabble, listening to old vinyl, and, of course, cooking up their own family memories.