The third of four brothers, James was brought up in Kent and was taught to cook by his mother. After finishing school he studied hotel management and then worked in the kitchens of several well-known restaurants, often with his older brother Chris.
He worked his way up through the ranks until he was invited by the Roux brothers to move to the US and work in upstate New York. On returning to England James worked for the two Michelin-starred restaurant Lettonie in Bath, under the respected chef Martin Blunos. In 1999, aged 23, James and his brother Chris opened Tanners Restaurant in Plymouth.
James' television career began in 2001 when he and Chris made their first TV appearance. Shortly after that James joined the Ready Steady Cook team.