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James Zhan

UCOL Cookery Graduate

UCOL Cookery Graduate

James Zhan grew up in Guangzhou, China, with busy enterprising parents and three sisters.

Every school holidays, when he had more time on his hands, James was in charge of the kitchen.

"It was a bit unusual; in China children are usually told by their parents what to do to help out, but my father would tell me to do whatever I liked – so cooking it was," he says.

"My family just let me do it."

Later, James enrolled at a vocational school in Guangzhou to learn more about cooking Cantonese cuisine. His course saw him entering competitions and working in five star hotels, and his passion grew.

After two years study he decided he wanted to learn something different: Western-style cuisine.

He arrived in Whanganui in 2011 to study Cookery, graduated in 2012 and hasn't looked back.

"I learned a lot and made a lot of good friends. My homestay mother was actually a Chef at Whanganui UCOL so I learned a lot from her, too."

After working his way up the ranks at Palmerston North's Rendezvous restaurant, James then went on to work at Manawatu's premier function centre Wharerata, and he says he learnt a lot.

"I flatted with international students and we all cooked for each other, so I learnt about food from countries like India, France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands."

James has now made the move to Auckland to seek new and exciting challenges.

“The move has paid off and I’m now working as a Demi Chef at The Grill by Sean Connolly in SkyCity Auckland.”

However James does wish he could cook more for his sisters, and has a visit home planned.

"Usually I cook traditional Chinese food when I go back home but next time I might try something different. I also want to rebuild the kitchen in my family home, maybe put in a new oven."

The ultimate dream for James is to one day open a fusion cuisine restaurant back in Guangzhou.

"I'm always looking to learn something new."


The Grill by Sean Connolly, in Auckland, New Zealand, offers fresh, honest fare with a Kiwi accent and locally sourced ingredients. Chef Sean Connolly is one of Australia’s and New Zealand’s most well-known and respected Chefs, with a wealth of experience.

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