Chef James Viles has always been an advocate of the paddock-to-plate approach and he’s bringing that philosophy with him to the nation’s capital, joining forces with the Harvac group as executive chef.
Formerly of the Southern Highlands’ renowned two-hatted restaurant Biota, which he closed in 2020, Viles will now be overseeing the kitchens at Akiba, Kokomo’s and Sage Dining Rooms.
“I love Canberra – it’s a great eating city and, as far as produce goes, too, it’s a great region,” he said.
“I’ve been using the produce from around this region for the past 15 years and Canberra has always been in my backyard, if you like.
“The cooler climate offers a lot of great ingredients and it also offers a lot of great, great wines.
“It’s a pretty special area.”
Viles is keen to join forces with Harvac’s Peter and Michael Harrington.
“I love the drive and passion that Mike and Pete have,” he said.
“They’re in their businesses every single day, they drive their team to be the best they can be.
“Akiba is full every single night, bums on seats is the telltale sign of a good restaurant.”
While the trio is still working out final details about how it will all work out, it looks like the initial focus will be on Kokomo’s and Sage.
“I’ll be in more of an overseeing role, each kitchen does have its head chef and those head chefs do a stellar job,” he said.
“I’m not in the business of cutting wings, I’m in the business of growing wings, and I think it’s important that people feel nurtured and feel they have a support network around them.
“That said, we’ll be doing a lot of fun stuff and trialing new dishes and putting new things in, in all of the venues, but it’s important that those chefs have ownership over their own kitchens.”
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Peter Harrington said he was excited about the collaboration. The brothers were regular visitors to Biota and loved Viles’ approach.
Former executive chef Johnon MacDonald, who has been with the group for six years, is heading back to New Zealand to open his own restaurant and, when they let it be known they were looking for a new executive chef, “James was the first person to knock on our door”.
After a year where hospitality was devastated by COVID, Viles said the time was right for the industry to rethink how it did things.
“I just feel like now’s the time to focus on the broader picture and develop some future-fit models,” he said.
“It’s been a very tough year for everybody, in every single industry, and it’s time now to put the thinking caps on and develop business models, and dining models, that still focus on hospitality, like the actual idea of being hospitable.
“People matter in hospitality and we need to find ways for that to continue to be the focus but also be able to operate in the current in the current climate.
“I get really excited about that sort of stuff, it’s like a new era, almost a forced new era, which is a good thing.”
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Biota’s James Viles joins Harvac Group, at Akiba, Kokomo’s and Sage Dining Rooms Canberra
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