CODE meets James Cochran, 12:51

Published 8 September 2020

Executive chef and owner of 12:51, winner of Great British Menu and one of CODE’s lockdown heroes, James Cochran has also recently launched fried chicken brand Around The Cluck. Here, we hear more about the project, the surprising dish he’d eat for the rest of his life and what he first learnt to cook.

For those who haven’t yet eaten at 12:51, how would you describe the restaurant and its food? 

Our company motto is “For anyone and everyone” and I think that sums up our restaurant perfectly! It’s laid back, has good tunes, the drink’s menu has all the classics with a great price range while the service is more personal than fine dining. The food is all about my character and I wanted it to be big bold flavours, bags of personality which I gather from lots of influences including my  heritage, family and people I’ve been lucky enough to be trained under. 

12:51 reopened at the start of September. How have you found the process? 

Exciting, nerve racking, hopeful and cautious! We are living through unprecedented times with so much uncertainty over the next 6-12 months, the two biggest things are we have our young team of incredible people back and we can serve our customers that have shown us huge support over the past 2 years!! 

Have you adapted your offering at all? 

 Yes – We have gone from A la carte/5course taster/8 course taster/Sunday roast offering down to a 5 course taster/Sunday roast offering only. We wanted to stick to the core offering and execute it to the highest ability plus with the reduced social distancing measures, this way it is still profitable and means we survive. 

You launched Around The Cluck during lockdown. Could you tell us a bit more about that? 

It’s a concept that we had been working on in secret for the past 12 months with the hope of starting it out through the festival/event season of summer 2020. Our signature dish at the restaurant is our Buttermilk jerk chicken, which I won great british menu champion of champions with so it made sense to have a concept around that dish! The feedback has been amazing and we will have a new home for it come October 2020 for sure. In the meantime, for those who enjoyed it as much as we did, you can get my jerk chicken burger DIY kit on restaurantkits.com 

Is it something you’re planning to continue moving forward? 

YES YES and YES! I love fried chicken, it brings back some very fond memories of eating Morley’s in Brixton growing up when I used to make trips down to London. I do think it’s the ultimate comfort food and seeing it embraced like it was over lockdown was insane. We always had plans for it anyway, but Covid brought it forward. Now that we’ve made it’s debut, we’re hoping for it to have a home come October. 

You’ve been involved with initiatives including Restaurant Kits and Community Comfort in recent months. How do you think the industry has adapted and supported those in need? 

It’s incredible, pre-COVID people in hospitality have always been so creative and coming up with ideas to improve their businesses and customer experience at their venues so I wasn’t surprised one bit that so many of us have fought, and come up with wonderful ideas to reattach themselves to their customers and create a revenue stream to help their businesses. Hospitality extends further than the food on the plate and I think that’s what we’ve shown in the past few months.

Restaurantkits.com allowed for us to reach audiences we could deliver to via the usual routes, whilst still bringing in money and Community Comfort resonated with me twofold – it’s such a great initiative and I’m honoured to be a part of it.  

What needs to happen to ensure that the industry is better supported moving forward? 

Government support on rent and VAT surely needs to continue, we are all still trading way below our capacity pre-COVID and there is a real danger that all our beloved venues and companies may not survive. 

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry? 

Work hard – Be creative as possible – Work under someone you are a big fan of. 

What was the first thing you learnt to cook?  

Properly? Wheeler’s famous crab tart. 

If there was one dish you had to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Pepperoni pizza . 

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