Chef Spotlight: James McNair
The judges for this year’s Build a Better Burger are top-notch! I’ll be highlighting several of the judges and there is no better way start than with a feature on James McNair, our head judge!
James McNair has been Head Judge for Build a Better Burger® since the recipe contest began in 1990, and now also serves as the Honorary Chairmen of BBB. The Napa Valley cookbook author spends much of each summer immersed in burger recipes in order to help select finalists for the national cook-off. He also invites well-known chefs, cookbook authors, and other noted food authorities to join him in St. Helena each year to judge the cook-off. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of BBB in 2005, James wrote and produced Build a Better Burger, a book about the recipe contest and cook-off, which includes all winning recipes.
With forty other cookbook titles published and almost four million copies sold, James has been hailed by food writers from coast to coast as the “king” and “master” of the single-subject cookbook. In the late 1980s, book reviewers credited him with single-handedly launching a new look in cookbook formats. His highly acclaimed kitchen library series published by Chronicle Books has been translated into several languages. Three of his books have received International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Book Award nominations.
In addition to writing, James has often been the photo designer, food stylist, and graphic designer for his books, and he photographed twelve of his titles. He was honored as the recipient of IACP’s first Award of Excellence in Food Photography “in recognition of exceptional achievement and a commitment to excellence.”
Bon Appetit magazine chose James as a member of “Who’s Who in American Barbecue.” The San Francisco Chronicle included the author among the 100 reasons why the Bay Area is “America’s culinary Mecca,” and their Sunday magazine listed him among the “101 Reasons Why We Love the Bay Area.”
James has taught at cooking schools throughout the United States and in Canada, and he has contributed articles to Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications. He has made numerous appearances on local and national television shows and radio programs from coast to coast, and has delivered presentations at the IACP’s annual conference, The Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts, as well as lectures on “picture-perfect cooking” to various organizations.
Prior to beginning his cookbook series for Chronicle Books, James co-owned Twin Peaks Grocery, one of San Francisco’s first upscale gourmet emporiums, and Picnic Productions, a fanciful party planning and catering service. Before yielding to the lure of retailing and catering, he had written and edited both cooking and gardening books for Ortho Books and Sunset Books. For several years he was a designer and co-manager of a Fifth Avenue plant and flower shop in New York City, designed tabletop decorations for Tiffany and Company, and operated a “Celebrate Nature” boutique in Bloomingdale’s.
A native of Louisiana, James learned to cook from his parents, grandmothers, and church ladies in his father’s congregation. He began his professional life as an ordained Southern Baptist minister, serving as director of public relations for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Now he ministers to the palates of American cooks and diners.
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