Despite a resume full of experiences with some of the country’s top chefs, renowned restaurants and a stint cooking and training in Strausbourg, France, Chef James Holmes credits his initial culinary inspiration to “fork marks.” Chef Holmes’ first memory is making those fork marks with his mother on a batch of peanut butter cookies. “Mom was my first inspiration and is still very important to me today,” Holmes said of his early ambition to become a chef. Inspired by everything from Robert Olney’s Simple French Cooking to Willie Nelson to the smell of bacon, Chef Holmes draws from everything around him to cook exceptional cuisine and offer an incomparable experience at his restaurants Olivia and Lucy’s Fried Chicken.
A fifth generation Texan, Chef Holmes is the quintessential proud Texan. Growing up with a father and grandfather working in the oil fields, Holmes was raised with a certain work ethic available only in West Texas. With memories that pay special detail to food, Holmes fondly remembers his grandfather taking BBQ out to the oilrigs for lunch. Holmes left Texas to attend college but he didn’t stray far and received his Bachelor’s degree with concentrations in Communication and Political Science from University of Oklahoma in 1991. Always reverting back to his mother’s fork marks, Holmes took off to New York to attend The Institute of Culinary Education, where famous chefs like Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and James Beard were frequent guest instructors. Upon graduation, Holmes started his impressive resume that would one day lead him to Olivia in Austin.
Chef Holmes began his career working at Joseph’s Table in Taos, New Mexico and while there, Executive Chef Joseph Wrede was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2000. To this day, Chef Holmes credits Wrede as an inspiration and the one who turned him on to food and cooking as an art form. Holmes kitchen resume continues with renowned restaurants including Tom Colicchio’s Craft and Terrance Brennan’s Picholine, both in New York City. Ready to take on France, Holmes relocated to Strausbourg, France and worked at La Panier du Marche. Embracing the life of a French chef, Holmes would bike to work early in the morning where he would meet the restaurant’s head chef and head to the markets in search of the best produce, meats and cheeses for that night’s menu, a practice he still uses today at both restaurants.
Chef Holmes eventually made his way back to Texas and opened Rose-Hill Manor in Fredericksburg. He then settled in Austin and worked for the Texas Culinary Academy where he was the nighttime Chef Instructor for Ventana Restaurant. After Ventana, Chef Holmes helped open the South Lamar location of Austin favorite, the Alamo Drafthouse where he helped turn the cinema’s dining into a culinary experience. Holmes then migrated to catering and worked for Out There Catering where he managed all the backstage catering for Austin music venues including The Backyard, Austin Music Hall, La Zona Rosa and more. Chef Holmes has cooked many times for Austin City Limits where he has pleased the palates of Willie Nelson and his crew many times.
While Holmes’ tireless work often leaves him exhausted, he still makes time for his family. Daughters Olivia—for whom his first restaurant is named—and Lucy—for whom his second, third and forth restaurants Lucy’s Fried Chicken are named—and, a third daughter, Layla and wife and business partner, Cristina, are his driving force every day. Next in line to his love of cooking and family, he loves West Texas Mexican food, live music (especially Willie Nelson) and not surprisingly, bacon.