Discover best practice in Biota. Grow, Gather, Cook. by locavore chef James Viles »

Committed to sustainability and dramatic modern food

By Laura McKinnon
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Biota by James Viles

Biota by James Viles


James Viles is the chef and owner of Biota Dining in Bowral, New South Wales. He is recognised for his commitment to sustainability and dramatic modern food. His priority is to use seasonal, ethical produce to create delicious meals.

Viles has said that if his restaurant were to be moved even 100 kilometres from where it is currently located then it would become a completely different restaurant (as produce would need to be sourced from other farms).

There is no doubt that biota is a cookbook for cooks. It is absolutely breathtaking in scope and is not only engaging to read and utilise, but its photography (by Jason Loucas) is highly polished and encapsulates perfectly what biota is trying to achieve – a sense of wonder in the landscape and the foods that it nourishes.

However, be aware that if you are a novice chef or someone who just wants to cook ‘normal’ type foods like stews and pies this might not be the cookbook for you.

biota is broken down into three main chapters – garden, forest and farm. However, it does start with a ‘simple’ section that provides recipes that are often used in many others throughout the book. Some of thesebasic recipes include creating chicken stock, putting together a beef glaze and forming pasta dough to name only a few.

Helpfully, the main recipes are also categorised in regard to which season they apply, as biota is very much about cooking within the seasons.

Within the chapter titled ‘Garden’ are recipes that are largely based around produce that can be sourced from within a garden. Line-caught Squid with Plant Juices is one (summer); Sorrel and Fennel Sorbet, Blueberries and Garden Lavender (mid to late summer) another.

The chapter titled ‘Farm’ is obviously about produce that comes from the farm – particularly meat and dairy based produce. Of particular appeal and interest in this chapter is the recipe for Green Grapes, Elderflower and Fig Leaf Ice Cream (summer). Hen Yolks, Toasted Rye, Cooked Curds and Chickpeas (all year round) also look  particularly tasty as well as nutritious.

The final chapter, ‘Forest’, is dedicated to foraging for ingredients in the local forest. The chapter starts with the story of Viles spending a lone night looking for mushrooms to be served as part of the lunch menu the next day.

The Forest Flowers, Jamberoo Mountain Blue and Honey (early spring) recipe is incredibly aesthetically pleasing, and the River Plants, Steamed Trout and Buttermilk (spring) recipe is very appealing on lots of delectable levels. And let’s just say that it is very unlikely that you will have seen the very alluring Mulched Pine Caramels (all year round) in any other cookbook!

Interspersed amongst the pages of biota are little segments of information about how the biota restaurant gains its produce – from European honey bees that they keep, through to how they manage their gardens and the dairy that provides their milk.

This all makes for interesting reading and certainly helps you to appreciate the effort in which they go to, to make their restaurant sustainable and to have the best produce go into their foods.

Overall biota is certainly not for novice cooks, but for the more adventurous amongst us, for those willing to experiment with new ways of putting foods together based on ingredients obtained locally, wherever you live. 

biota is an example of best practice. This is a case study of a restaurant doing all the right things to provide food of the highest quality using what they have around them. I wish there were far more examples of this.

What is great about this book is its ability to not only be a cookbook, but to tell the story of biota exceptionally well. This is a second reason why this book is such a worthy purchase. Highly recommended for those that love to cook and for those wanting a challenge!


biota. Grow, gather, cook. by James Viles is published by Murdoch Books (Sydney, NSW, Nov 2015; hb, 248pp, RRP A$59.99). It is available at good bookshops and direct from the publisher here » 

You can also find it online via »

Read the press release for biota here »

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July 12th, 2016
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