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Meet James Graham of Ba Restaurant

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Graham.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in NYC where I apprenticed to be a chef after High School. I trained at the Four Seasons and then cooked for NY legend Sam Goldman, and then with Anthony Bourdain.

When I moved to Los Angeles with my wife Julia I thought that I was done with cooking and got serious about being an artist. For the next 8 years I was crisscrossing the freeways on my motorcycle every day, going from one free-lance art job to another, part time teaching, production gigs, and still working catering to fill in the gaps. One day I got run over on the 110. Pickup truck ran right over me and crushed my pelvis, back bone and legs. I spent a few months in the hospital and it was touch and go a couple of times. That’s when I realized that all I want to do is walk to work and make soup for my friends. So as soon as I was able too I started building my latest restaurant: “Ba”. on York Blvd. It was a big, big success and last fall I turned it over to my colleague Chef Vivian, from Pine and Crane, so that I could start my next project: an art studio complex with a kitchen that chefs and food artists can use by the day to develop new concepts, and so I can plan my next restaurant!

Has it been a smooth road?
Building a restaurant by hand from scratch is a lot easier than you think So is building an art studio complex. Everyone complains that the City of LA is too strict, but it’s not true. They have a lot of rules and you need to learn them. Most restaurateurs never bother reading the rule book.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the ba restaurant story. Tell us more about the business.
I do a lot of things, but mostly I provide the space and tools for artists to do their thing. Whether it’s a culinary artist showing off in a kitchen I built, or a photographer making prints in a darkroom I put together, it’s all the same to me. I just want to provide access to the tools so people can enjoy the work, my own or my friends.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Its already changed so radically I can barely recognize it. When I was an apprentice you needed twenty years of experience to earn a loan to build your own restaurant. Now a kid with one good recipe can do their thing in a food court, or from a cat and be on the cover of food and wine 3 years later. The main change is that Chefs are now considered artists, and are treated with respect. It will just keep changing, and for the better.

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