James Trees is a chef in the old school meaning of the word. He believes that the craft of cooking has to come before the art: “Knowledge is power in the kitchen.” This has been the foundation in the development of his cooking and his work since he was fourteen. James was born and raised in Las Vegas, where he began his culinary career at Las Vegas High School, earning an internship at the Mirage after his first two years of Basic Training. With a combination of humility and hard work, he earned the respect of chefs that took him in and invested their time to teach him proper technique.
James worked for two years learning this foundation before being accepted to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York. Having worked in five star restaurants before the CIA, James was already qualified to work with CIA chefs on outside projects including assisting two chefs as lead apprentice for their Certified Master Chef tests. He has had the privilege of working under great chefs such as Luke Palladino, Bradley Ogden, Michael Mina, Alex Stratta, Jacques Van Statten, Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay. He has led kitchens for some of Los Angeles’ best chefs: Steven Fretz, Akasha Richmond and Ray Garcia.
Right out of the CIA James went to work as a line cook for Eric Ripert and then went on to work for Michael Mina at Aqua. After one year at the Bellagio restaurant he was promoted to sous chef at the age of 21, becoming the youngest sous chef ever to work at the five-star five-diamond hotel. He remained in this position until moving to Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s Palace as chef tournant. It was during his time there that the restaurant received Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation, a first for any Las Vegas restaurant. He went on to work for Rising Star Chef Jacques van Statten at Alize’ as demi-chef.
After a near-tragic car accident which slowed him down for three months rather than the year that the doctors anticipated, James went back to work for Michael Mina and was promoted to corporate sous chef after a stage at The Fat Duck outside London. He went on to train hundreds of young cooks while opening five restaurants for Chef Mina, finally taking the position as chef de cuisine under Steven Fretz at Michael Mina’s restaurant XIV. After working with Michael Mina for five years he worked with chef Gordon Ramsay and colleague Andi Van Willigan on both “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” This experience allowed him to share his knowledge of how independent restaurants become profitable and allowed James to refine his understanding of the pitfalls of the business he had worked inside of for so many years.
But James is a chef, not a television person, and after one year of working in TV James needed to get back into the kitchen and back to his craft. He took the position of Chef de Cuisine at FIG in Santa Monica, where he led the kitchen to record business levels and profits all while winning awards in sustainability and working with local farmers and foragers to produce food of unequaled quality in Southern California. From there he went on to helm Hutchinson’s and the Superba restaurant group – all of which only stoked his desire to return home to Las Vegas and open his own place, servings up his own unique blend of elegant Italian comfort food.