We delve into chef James Diack’s sustainable culinary creations at Basalt

In March 2023, Basalt welcomed chef James Diack as its resident head chef, and his arrival brought an air of excitement and anticipation to the already distinguished establishment. Having left a lasting mark on Joburg’s culinary landscape through his beloved and temporarily closed Parkhurst eatery, Coobs, James captured the hearts of diners with his commitment to farm-style fare. His passion for elevating simple ingredients while maintaining their authenticity has earned him accolades and a loyal following.

Furthermore, his enriching experience at the Italian eatery, Pomodoro, further deepened his appreciation for the nuances of Italian cuisine and its time-honoured traditions, leading him to explore the realm of Italian food at his charming Italian-style casual eatery, Il Contadino.

Drawing inspiration from the bountiful offering of South Africa’s local farmers and artisans,  James ensures that every ingredient gracing diners’ plates is of the highest quality, full of natural goodness, and bursting with seasonal vibrancy.

We discover the inspiration that drives his creativity, the stories behind his signature dishes, and the exciting culinary journey that awaits diners at Basalt.

What was the one thing that excited you the most about joining Basalt as the head chef?

An opportunity to get back to offering a more refined multi-course dining experience (post Coobs), one that complements our more rustic and relaxed ‘farm-to-fork’ approach at Il Contadino. The small and intimate space at Basalt was an ideal place to do this, and ultimately my passion for sustainable dining aligns nicely with The Peech Hotel’s commitment to sustainability in travel and hospitality.

How would you describe the overall dining experience that you have created for guests? 

At Basalt we have created an elevated dining experience which centres around provenance – knowing exactly from where and from whom our ingredients come. We pride ourselves on supporting local or artisanal suppliers, with more than 90% of our ingredients sourced within a 3km radius of Brightside Farm (Diack’s organic family farm in the Magaliesburg). I’m passionate about introducing diners to the natural taste and superior quality of organically grown and raised produce, with sustainability at the core of every dish we serve. Our menu themes evolve as the seasons change. Combined with optional wine pairings that showcase innovative local wine producers, the overall dining experience is intended to be honest, approachable, and good fun.

What is your favourite dish on the current tasting menus, and what elements of sustainability are highlighted in that particular dish?

Ultimately, my favourite dish is our Duroc Pork Belly, with succulent meat and subtle flavours that are nourishing and comforting this time of year. In terms of sustainability, this dish is truly “nose to tail”, with full utilisation of the entire animal to ensure there is no waste. Our current pork belly dish also includes a pork trotter potsticker, jus made from the pork bones, and crackling made from the skin.

Is there a particular season that you look forward to the most when it comes to creating a tasting menu, and why?

My favourite time of year is late December to early January when there is an abundance of produce available at Brightside Farm; we are so spoilt for choice! At that time of year we basically have unlimited choice from a full bouquet, soft fruits such as plums, peaches and figs, full grazing animals and late spring lambs, abundant leaves, herbs and edible flowers – all naturally sun ripened, offering their deepest natural colours and flavours.

With the ever-changing food industry, what steps do you take to keep yourself updated on the latest culinary trends and techniques?

I’m forever researching and honing my approach to ‘seasonal dining’, which ultimately forms the basis of my cooking ethos. Using mainly natural, seasonal and organic ingredients, we cook what we get, not what we want, so I’m always searching for new and innovative ways to prepare and cook these ingredients that showcase their natural flavours and qualities.

Can you give us a sneak peek into any exciting events or special menus planned for the future?

We’ve recently opened up an extra dinner service on Wednesday evenings, with Basalt now offering dinner from Wednesday to Saturday evenings each week. In late July we introduced the “Winter, Wine & Woodfire” series, an opportunity to enjoy great food paired with unique local wines, presented in a fun and interactive way, hosted by awesome winemakers or sommeliers. Moving into Spring and Summer we’ll bring a more summery vibe, think bubbles and rosé alongside seasonally inspired small plates, ideal as we embrace warmer weather and a more festive time of year.

What inspires you day to day – in life and work? 

It’s an exciting challenge to take what you’re given and make the most of it, that’s what I love most about what I do every day. Right now I’m inspired by the synergy and balance between Brightside Farm as our main supplier, Il Contadino as a rustic European-inspired restaurant, and Basalt as a more elevated dining experience. Being involved with all three allows me to really diversify and maximise the concept of sustainable dining. At the end of the day, I’m a Joburg boy and passionate about this city. I love supporting our best local producers and suppliers, and I’m proud to be part of the journey and making my own contribution to the food narrative here.

As a resident head chef at Basalt, what do you hope your legacy will be in terms of sustainable dining?

I hope my legacy will be as a chef who focuses on the honesty of flavour and ingredients. We are doing this by selecting top-class ingredients, cooking them in the way that best presents their natural flavours, whilst ensuring the lowest possible impact on the planet.

Follow Basalt on Instagram to stay updated with Chef James’s latest creations and insights.

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