Chef/proprietor, Commis, Hawker Fare, The Dock, Oakland, California
Born in Ubonratchathani, Thailand and raised in Oakland, California, James Syhabout studied at California Culinary Academy and began his career at Manresa in Los Gatos, advancing quickly to sous chef. Syhabout’s close work there with Chef David Kinch inspired his interest in different European cuisines, so it was natural that after two years, he would head to Europe to continue his culinary education. There, he worked in the United Kingdom and at various restaurants in Spain, including Alkimia in Barcelona and the groundbreaking El Bullí.
Following further culinary explorations through France and Italy, Syhabout returned to Manresa as a consultant. In 2006, he collaborated with Chef Daniel Patterson on the logistics of opening Coi in San Francisco. After Coi, Syhabout was scouted as executive chef at Plumpjack Café. Within one year, he had earned a rave 3.5-star review from the San Francisco Chronicle and was recognized as a “Rising Star Chef” by San Francisco Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and StarChefs.Com. After accumulating numerous accolades at Plumpjack Cafe, Syhabout was recruited back to Manresa as Chef de Cuisine. His return was largely motivated by the restaurant’s involvement with Love Apple Farms and grower Cynthia Sandberg. His experience working with Sandberg resulted in a true farm-to-plate approach as he developed the menus.
By 2010, Syhabout had launched Commis, the first fine-dining restaurant in Oakland. Mere months after opening, it was awarded a Michelin star, as well as a “Best New Chef” nod from Food & Wine. Laotian Thai food–inspired Hawker Fare followed in 2011, in the very same Oakland location as his mother’s former restaurant. Next came Box & Bells Eating House and the casual, beer-centric The Dock, both in Oakland, and then the 2015 opening of a Hawker Fare San Francisco.
Additionally, Syhabout has twice appeared on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, as sous chef for the victorious Mourad Lahlou and David Kinch.