Layers of Flavor
HEAD COOK: James Aptakin
COMPETITION: World Soup Championship
If there had been a Junior Master Chef Competition when James Aptakin was ten-years old, there is no question that he would have won the big prize. Baking shortbread cookies with jam in the middle watching Remington Steele with his mom at the age of 12 and making complete dinners for family and friends by 5th grade, James was on his way to winning enough awards to last a lifetime, garnering his first Executive Chef position at 25 years of age at the Whitcomb 600 room Hotel in San Francisco. His mom was his mentor and teacher that inspired him for greatness. A small glimpse of his honors range from 1st Place as a local Iron Chef for the California tomato festival, 1st Place in the Food Network’s 2008 Big Bash Caterers competition, and 1st Place in the People’s Choice Mangos Award at the Moana Hotel’s (Waikiki) 7th Annual Hawaii Top Chef Competition to two-time 1st Place winner of the Seafood Competition and 1st Runner-up Reserve Champion in the 2016 World Food Championships.
Chef James’ formal cooking education began on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) where he learned to cook for 6,000 aircraft carrier crewmembers. The man who believes that ‘food is life and cooking is soul’ then received his degree from the California Culinary Academy, continuing his education at the world’s premier culinary college, Culinary Institute of America. A business degree in sales/marketing and advertising from Heald College combined with his experience made it possible for James to be a successful businessman in addition to a talented chef with his catering company, Layers of Flavor; a high-end theatrical catering company that wowed movers and shakers from all walks of life; and a line of sauces he created with Wine Country Kitchens in Napa Valley.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Chef James was influenced first by his mother, and by living 20 years with and dining on the city’s South American food flavors. Moving to California, and living in San Francisco’s Bay area for 22 years gave James the opportunity to develop a large volume background, cooking for thousands at a time at Hotels, Resorts, casinos and convention centers. It was here that he refined his award-winning Pan-Asian-Hawaiian cuisine with French techniques; and where his spectacular wine dinners celebrated the rich and famous. Continuing westward, James moved to Hawaii in 2012 where he incorporated his South American exotic flavors and California flair with local farm-to-table and Pan-Asian-Hawaiian fusion into even more award-winning menus. Recognized for his commitment to local products, James won the Hawaii Food Manufacturer’s Association Battle of the Chefs two out of three times (HMFA Taste Awards) and won the most write-in votes for Hale Aina Awards Best Gourmet Comfort Food in Hawaii (Mac 24/7 – 2014 - 2017).
Chef James has had the honor of traveling keeping his passion alive by staging for Michelin Chefs such as Joel Robouchon, Daniel Boulud, Rick Moonen, Alex Stratta, Bouchon (Thomas Keller) Curtis Duffy former Grace. James has also championed properties like Turtle Bay Resort 5 star Forbes award as the Executive Chef, and Culinary Director for Chef Dominque Crenn 3 Michelin 5 star Forbes awarded property.
No stranger to TV cameras, Chef James’ first TV appearances were on the Travel Channel, on Taste of America, 1st place Food Network Challenge 1st place catering 2008 (Big Bash Caterer’s) 1st Place Seafood World Food Championships, then on to the Home Shopping Network (HSN) promoting his sauces. Since then, he has been on a Zagat-produced show about high-end Spam dishes; featured on Cooking Hawaiian Style and Living Local; the go-to chef for news regarding sustainability farm-to-table Hawaiian fusion cuisine, even traveling to appear on Australia TV (Sunrise) to promote Hawaiian fusion cuisine; and featured on the FYI Network’s Food Porn with Michael Chernow, and Guy’s Grocery Games Food Network World Food Champions 2018.
At home in Fairfield Ca with his wife, Ruth, an ICU RN, James Aptakin enjoys ocean sports, exploring new restaurants and traveling. However, his true passion is philanthropy, bettering the lives of others as his adoptive family did for him when he was four and had already lived in 12 foster homes. Giving others a second chance through food charity events funding such organizations as Child Haven, Casa, Elton John Oscar Party , the American Cancer Society, and fulfilling a 16-year-old boy’s Make A Wish wish to cook Italian food and pasta from scratch and to complete in the World Food Championship 2018 with Chef James. This is what makes James Aptakin come alive in the moment of cooking. “Cooking for others,” says Aptakin, “Makes everything around me better!” And, as Chef James is known to say, “Keep the Passion Alive!”