Coobs chef expands culinary empire with Italian eatery

James Diack's fourth Joburg restaurant, Il Contadino, promises to be an ode to 'rural eating'

21 September 2017 - 00:00 By Catherine Black
Tomato, broccoli and mozzarella pasta, saucy lamb chops and arancini will feature on Il Contadino's menu.
Tomato, broccoli and mozzarella pasta, saucy lamb chops and arancini will feature on Il Contadino's menu.
Image: Steve the Joburg foodie

First came Coobs in Parkhurst – now a fine-dining favourite, then came The National in Parktown North – now a popular neighbourhood dining room away from home, and after that came The Federal - Melville’s answer to a New York-style diner.

Now, chef James Diack is looking to repeat his previous successes with his fourth Joburg eatery: Il Contadino.

Set to open in mid-October just one road away from The National, the restaurant’s core concept will be about rural eating, which James describes as “honest food, with clean flavours, made from exceptional ingredients that are available from the area and in that season.”

James’s three existing locations are already wholly focused on sustainability and seasonal eating – so much so that almost everything is supplied by Brightside, the Diacks’ family farm in the Magaliesberg.

James aims to take this even further with Il Contadino (meaning “the farmer” in Italian), where every last ingredient will be sourced from there.

“My family and I are passionate about tracing the provenance of our food,” he says. “We’ve even introduced a ‘Seasonality Calendar’ that educates diners and consumers about seasonality, and how to shop and eat accordingly.”

This approach then trickles down into each of his restaurants, resulting in regularly changing menus and dishes featuring these seasonal ingredients.

Il Contadino takes its inspiration from San Sebastian, Burgundy and Tuscany, three European regions that James feels embody simple, fresh, locally sourced food

Il Contadino takes its inspiration from San Sebastian, Burgundy and Tuscany, three European regions that James feels embody simple, fresh, locally sourced food and “really great wine”.

Thus, the menu will feature fresh, uncomplicated dishes such as roast chicken, slow-cooked pork, charcuterie, salads, homemade pasta and pizza made the in-house wood-fired oven.

“The idea is that by cooking and eating seasonally, you use ingredients when they’re in abundance,” says James.

But it also makes business sense: supplying his own seasonal ingredients means he gets the security of both quality and supply. “We know we can use everything, so there are no wasted costs,” he says.

The wine list is set to be both unique and unusual, thanks largely to James’s personal relationships with winemakers who share his passion for farm-to-table. “It’s about taking something from the ground, putting it through an artisanal process with love, to come out with something refined, smart and to be proud of.”

As for the logistics of running four restaurants, James credits his team of head chefs who have all come through the Coobs system. “My team really understand the concept and importance of respecting the farm and the ingredients,” he says. “I’m looking to do the same for Il Contadino.”


This article is adapted from one originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guides. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za

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