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Biota’s James Viles joins Canberra’s Harvac Group as Executive Chef

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In news that will be music to the ears of Canberra foodies, Founder and Head Chef of late and great Bowral restaurant Biota, James Viles, has joined the Harvac Group as Executive Chef to oversee their numerous Canberra establishments.

If ever there was a destination restaurant for the Southern Highlands, it was Biota. Famed for its paddock-to-plate approach, close relationship with local producers and inventive menu, foodies were devastated by the closing of the Bowral icon last year, after the double-punch of the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-restrictions.

Now it’s been revealed to HerCanberra that the man behind Biota, James Viles (pictured centre), has joined Canberra-based Harvac Group as Executive Chef, overseeing Harvac’s numerous popular establishments such as Akiba, Kokomo’s and Sage Dining Rooms.

James says his working relationship with the Harvac Group’s Peter and Michael Harrington developed over many visits to Biota across the years and with James wanting to stay regional when it came to food, Canberra was a natural fit.

“I’ve always been connected to this southern area of New South Wales. I grew up in the bush and I’m a regional chef at heart—I don’t think that can change now,” says James.

“It’s not only being around likeminded people but being in a part of the country that I’m passionate about when it comes to good produce and great ingredients.”

While James is currently working on Harvac’s existing venues, especially around suppliers and what he describes as Harvac’s team of “very passionate and wonderful people”, he’s tight-lipped about new ventures.

However, he can say he’s excited to bring his paddock-to-plate ethos of seasonal, organic produce to some of Canberra’s most popular venues.

“They’re extremely busy restaurants, and to be able to bring my beliefs and passions to existing venues that do touch a lot of people makes a lot of sense,” he says.

“Because the more people you can reach using great produce and seasonal produce, the better. It’s a great opportunity.”

For the moment, James’ focus will remain Kokomo’s—where he says they’ll be doing some “interesting things” over the coming months—and Braddon’s Sage Dining Rooms, which he says is being headed up by some very exciting young talent.

“The next few months will be about those two establishments, and then who knows—there might be some exciting news coming. We’ll wait and see.”

Most of all, James is excited to work in Canberra, which he describes as a “great eating city” and connect with its rich network of local producers.

“I think there’s so much down here. There’s amazing honey, and a potter creating some really special plates for Sage. Having those stories and that connection…I’m finding that really interesting.”

“I really do enjoy Canberra. I see a big community that loves to dine out, and I think that’s really special.”

Feature image: Michael Harrington, James Viles, Peter Harrington

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