James Tracey embodies more than a couple of cultural contradictions, and he wears them really well. He’s a tall Texas boy without a shadow of the stereotypical bravado, the “everything’s bigger in Texas” attitude having missed him entirely—except for Tracey himself, that is (you’d probably pick him first in a pick-up football game). This Rising Star first discovered his love of cooking at an after-school bakery job in his hometown of Mesquite, Texas and hasn’t look back since.
After high school, Tracey went straight to The Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, Tracey moved to DC, where he worked in the kitchens of Red Sage (now closed) and Vidalia, two classic Capital City restaurants. But with its siren call of opportunity, New York City beckoned the young chef, and Tracey came to Luma, then Gramercy Tavern, where he first met his future boss Tom Colicchio.
From Gramercy, Tracey went on to work at Lespinasse at The St. Regis Hotel, then a New York Times four-star restaurant. Undaunted by the pace, discipline, and pressure of some of New York’s top kitchens, Tracey eventually accepted the position of sous chef on the opening team of Craft. In addition to helping the restaurant earn a James Beard award for Best New Restaurant in 2002, Tracey learned an even deeper appreciation for the integrity of ingredients at Craft. Now, as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Tracey lets the locally sourced and seasonally inspired products guide him, creating cuisine that’s complex and clean but still boldly flavorful—a hint of big-boned Texas in cutting-edge New York cuisine.