The Story of a Chef and his Lasting Impact
The warm and talented Kimpton executive chef, James Siao, helms the kitchen of one of the most celebrated locales in downtown, Finch & Fork. In the five years Chef James has been in Santa Barbara, he has proved integral in the evolution of Finch & Fork at the Canary. Now, with a loyal following and panache for dishing out consistently delicious plates, he’s looks to do the same in his duel role as executive chef of both Finch & Fork, and now Outpost at the Goodland.
Relationships, creativity and consistency are Chef James’ primary ingredients. He has an eager approach to life; one that sparks a drive to constantly learn and grow in his work as a chef, in his relationships with staff and friends, and connect with his community. Guests may enter the restaurant as curious, hungry visitors, but most often leave feeling satisfied and with a lasting impression.
In the kitchen, Chef James strives to create an environment where his staff feels like family. Where they can grow as individuals, hone their craft, and always feel welcome. This stems from his Midwest roots where he grew up in his dad’s Chinese restaurant; a place where family values and hard work was taught early on. Those experiences are what shaped James into the chef he is today, and helped produce the culture at Finch & Fork where “you break bread with strangers, and leave as friends.”
When it comes to cooking, it’s all in the details for Chef James. “You can make people really happy when you cook for them, and if you do it right, you can provide a memorable dining experience.” At Finch & Fork, where they source their ingredients is just as important as how they compose those ingredients on the plate. Their menus draw from the coast and Santa Barbara’s bounty, ensuring the utmost in quality. Chef James’ latest dinner menu features a variety of standouts that speak to the season, like his Pork Chop with apple bacon chutney and mustard ginger crumble with butternut squash puree, or Short Rib with parsnip puree, charred broccolini, salsa verde and roasted grapes. His Salmon dish is perfectly prepared, and served with pork belly, potato hash, pea greens, peperonata and a mouth-watering tarragon aioli. No matter what you order, you’ll find bright, simple dishes prepared with care each and every time.
Just like his commitment to delivering the best to each guest’s table, Chef James shares a commitment to his community. Each year he participates in Chefs Cycle, a three day, 300 mile bike ride down the California coast to benefit No Kid Hungry. “You ride all day, fight through a challenge together, accomplish something great and share a meal together prepared by participating chefs.” Off season, you can find Chef James cycling around Santa Barbara, stopping for coffee at one of his favorite outposts, Handlebar, and holding culinary fundraisers to raise awareness and money for the cause. This year, Chef James held a series of pop-up ramen shops around town, as well as a multi-course sit down dinner at Sama Sama.
Whatever Chef James is involved in, it’s done with honest intentions and to bring people together. Whether creating new dishes and cultivating a team of great chefs at Finch & Fork, or working on new menu ideas in his new role at Outpost at the Goodland, he remains one of the area’s best culinary talents; someone you want to break bread with. “I like to focus on the legacy. What I’m leaving behind. I want to leave behind great people.” Instead of surrendering to an often egocentric industry, Chef James utilizes passion and mutual respect to achieve growth – within himself and those around him. “Being an entrepreneur is growing yourself, and the people around you. You have the time and knowledge, you just need to pass it on. If you don’t pass it on, it’s not worth the time.”
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