host spotlight

Feeding His Community With Delicious Food and Entertainment.

Meet & Cook With Chef James

James grew up on a 50-acre horse farm near the Salinas Valley. His great-grandfather emigrated from Yugoslavia into the Central Valley and started an apple farm. His grandfather later moved to the very fertile Salinas Valley and started one of the first produce companies. It was called Sun Harvest. My mother raised us mostly on local fruits and vegetables though there was still the occasional cooking “out of a can” given the generation. Canned beets! The one thing we always had was a bowl of fresh fruit, cut up and put into a bowl for us before we went to bed.

James earned a master of Spanish literature and linguistics from Middlebury College and lived in Spain for two years. He later entered into the technology business and worked at various advertising agencies in San Francisco over a 12 year period. Along the way, he started cooking as "therapy" for his corporate day job. CookWithJames has created 15 years ago as an underground supper club. James would prepare multiple-course regional Italian and Spanish dinners in his home for guests and friends. James staged at Quince restaurant after they opened in 2004, and has also lived and cooked in both Italy and Spain. After leaving his day job in advertising in 2009 James launched CookWithJames as a full-time business, offering private sit-down dinners as well as cooking class parties for all occasions. To learn more visit

When did you first become inspired to begin cooking?

I was looking for another creative outlet and I love to entertain and feed people so cooking was a logical choice. I love going to markets and shopping for ingredients and talking to local farmers and understanding where all the food comes from It’s incredibly therapeutic and fulfilling.

What does your passion mean to you?

Passion is something you drives and excites you and something you want to share with others. Cooking can literally be very utilitarian (an end to a means) but for me, it excites me and drives me to do more and learn more. And of course, I naturally want to share all of this with likeminded individuals, while getting people excited about shopping and cooking for themselves. It’s really a lifestyle choice.

What made you want to pursue your passion and teach your expertise?

When people set foot through my door they are typically here for some sort of celebratory occasion. It gives me great pleasure to welcome them and hopefully shows them a very special and unique evening of cooking and conversation over great food and ingredients. It’s very rewarding to me and I love it when my guests come back to me days or weeks later and tell me about the dishes they have prepared based on their experience with me.

How would you describe the link between your classes and the community around you?

I would say that my classes are very closely linked to the local farmers and markets and food purveyors that provide me my ingredients. My butcher friends at Bi-Rite Market, for example, all know about my business and follow me on Instagram. Often I send my guests into Bi-Rite to talk to them, etc. It’s a very small, tightly knit community.

Tell us about your favorite moment/ biggest achievement since you started teaching your classes.

That’s a tough question. Certainly, when my guests come back to me with photos of my dishes that they have successfully prepared…well, that is very fulfilling. I also think that seeing CookWithJames grow as a business over 7 years and become so popular and successful has been incredibly rewarding. It means that I’m doing at least some things right and people really enjoy the experiences I provide.

What are your favorite dish and the story behind it?

One of my favorites is the Spanish tortilla de patatas. It took me years to master and it’s a dish I love to consume on a regular basis. Also, my Five Dot Ranch slow-braised beef brisket has been on my menus and in my repertoire for years and is always a crowd pleaser. I have tweaked it over the years and it’s just a great, hearty dish.

How long have you been living in the Bay Area? What are some culinary insider tips you’d like to recommend to someone who just moved to the city?

I have lived in SF for 19 years. As for newcomers to the city, read some of the better food blogs such as my friend’s e-column, EaterSF and of course my own blog at These are all great ways to plug into the food scene. Instagram is also a great source of information. I’m @cookwithjames.

What is your favorite moment/story you’ve had between you and your students?

I had a very passionate group of students about 6 months ago for a daytime cooking class. They came from all over the Bay Area for our class and were very curious where I shop etc. I invited them to accompany me to Bi-Rite, my favorite market after the class. I introduced them to my butcher and fishmonger, etc. It was really a special day.

Share one quote that resonates with you the most and what it means for you?

This is a quote from one of my students on his Yelp review of the experience. It really sums things up:

“James is not there to impress you with his cooking skill.  Nor is he there to tell you what to do. James shares a love of cooking WITH you, and shows you what that means. In an age of celebrity chefs and frantic displays of cooking prowess, it's refreshing to meet a real person who cooks with love, and inspires that in others.”

–Will Spencer

Check Out Chef James's Upcoming Classes!

Host Spotlight - The Science Behind an Art Studio

Mimi Liu

"Passion takes dedication. Dedication takes commitment. Commitment is an attitude. You need to have the right attitude to continue in the act of accomplishing your goal. Which is to give purpose in passion and exert what I’m capable of."


1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us more about the experiences that you offer through Verlocal?

I graduated from art college and have always been interested in art. Since young, I enjoyed art and developed a passion for it. I thought, if I enjoyed doing what I love doing I should share this with those who want to try and get into the act of art making. Verlocal has given me this opportunity to connect with the public and become a teacher in the process. I started Magicten Art Studio to offer an experience on the use of resin and its possibilities; creating your own home décor, craft items, jewelry and more. It is for those who are looking for a new hobby, or want to exercise the creative mind. This experience allows you to apply imagination to creation.

Resin Products including Plates, Bowls, etc

Resin Products including Plates, Bowls, etc

2. Tell us about your background: When did you first become inspired to do what you love?

Resin Boards

Resin Boards

I was working on a craft project for myself early this year, and I needed to decide on a material to complete the piece. In research, I chanced upon resin. I did not know much about resin then so I had to start from the beginning. After much research and exploration, I realized that resin very versatile and adaptable to other types of materials. I embarked on this as a hobby and created many items. The possibilities are endless. I realized that Singapore does not offer such workshops with the opportunity to learn about this specific material, nor the space to develop artistry for resin. I have the knowledge in hand, and wanted to teach what I know. Thus came to birth of my workshop, Magicten Art Studio. Magicten - represents your ten fingers, you create magic and anything with your imaginative mind with the extensions of your hands.


3. What does your passion mean to you?

I couldn’t have done this without the support of my family to pursue my passion. They understand my attachment to art and how much enjoyment it gives me. It keeps my drive going and helps me continue doing what I’m good at. The motivation is to become better at what I am good at and develop it further. Setting goals are easy, but accomplishing them is an uphill task, though not impossible. This became the main driving force of my work; regret not your passions, reap satisfaction and happiness in turn. Why choose to wake up to something you can’t find fulfillment in?


4. How has Magicten impacted your community and the people who support it?

Different Resin Designs on Stools

Different Resin Designs on Stools

Magicten has been running for a little over 2 months, and I have been receiving positive feedback from the students. Some find the experience relaxing, not thinking of work or feeling pressures from life. This comes as a surprise to them as their hands are always moving to match up to the ideas coming from the creative mind. Resin is a unique material and it seems to open up doors to a new artistic path. It is something they have never experimented on before, yet this allows them to loosen up, creating a relaxing and therapeutic experience. Some return for second workshop and bring their friends, this makes me happy as it is an indication that I am doing something right.


5. Tell us about your biggest achievement since you started Magicten?

Mimi working on a Resin Canvas

Mimi working on a Resin Canvas

Since opening the doors of Magicten, the awareness for this material has begun and word is spreading. This is the whole purpose isn’t it, to have people know what Magicten is about. I don’t expect it to spread like a wild-fire, but I’m definitely making an impact on the community! Not everyone will know about your business or what you’re about, not everyone will be interested. You can only reach so far as much as you can. My achievement is that I have students coming back for seconds and wanting more. They bring their friends because they as well want to share what they’ve enjoyed.



6. What was your biggest challenge when you first started your business?

Having a vision is not enough, to construct your vision was my challenge. Vision is just the start of an idea. Nonetheless as it comes along you progress and it eventually builds. Building an architect (brand) you need a strong foundation, it is the ground base which your vision lies upon and where your business will grow.

7. What inspires you to continue building and improving your business? 

Resin Design Tools

Resin Design Tools

There is always something new that can be done, this is to keep the business going and keep it interesting. Coming up with new ideas so consumers can return for more or finding ways to appeal to those who have yet to try their hands at the craft of resin. I hope this shows the community the joy it brings to me and they can enjoy it too. It purely is fun!

8.What made you want to pursue your passion and become a host?

Passion takes dedication. Dedication takes commitment. Commitment is an attitude. You need to have the right attitude to continue in the act of accomplishing your goal. Which is to give purpose in passion and exert what I’m capable of.

This is teaching, although not just an art form, but anything is achievable when you have the right attitude. So teaching others is what inspires me; to teach the things I love doing, I truly do enjoy in what I’m doing. My purpose is to share with others with what you can create and it's not that hard! With this direction, you give your best service to your students and convince them that they can do it too, maybe creating better than me. 

Collection of small ornaments and accessories made of Resin

Collection of small ornaments and accessories made of Resin

9.What are your goals for the future?

At the moment I’m starting small and still learning, gradually to grow my own business and understand customer’s needs, coming to know how much more I still need to do, and how to progress. It is like having an option to order either a whole cake or just a slice of it; you don’t want to have a whole cake you can’t finish, so just take a slice for now. Eventually when I’ve got a clearer perspective of my brand, I’d like to move to a bigger space and cater to more people. When that happens, include materials in the workshops, alongside resin art so there will be a bigger market for different audiences. Everybody gets a chance!

10.What advice can you give to people who want create a business from doing what they love?

You need to have the knowledge first. You have to believe first. Have the right attitude first. Know your skills first. Know what is possible first, and what is not. Be ready to accept you don’t always get what you want, but welcome what you don’t understand. You don’t always want to meet the people you want to meet, but you will. You eventually will have to find answers to your questions because no one is going to do it for you. There is always a solution – to everything! You have choices to make your decisions, your opportunity. It is whether you want to or not. When you are ready to test your capability, do it, when you have so much ready, when you know so much by now, what do you have to lose? Don’t be scared, it is your quest and you are already half way through it with this attitude. Most of all, have fun!

Hand-made Resin Cup 

Hand-made Resin Cup 

Join Mimi as she spreads the joy and love of resin to everyone in Singapore and the world! She's holding classes for you to teach you how to create your very own products!

Photo Credits : Olivia Kwok