James Chatto was born in London, England, and educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford, where he read English on an open scholarship. As a singer and saxophonist he had a hit record in 1977, going on to a career as an actor in films, repertory theatre and on the West End stage, where he appeared as Annas and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. He retired at the age of 26, and moved to a remote village in Greece, where he and his Canadian wife, Wendy Martin, lived for four years, raising children, farming olives and making wine, an experience he described in his second book, A Kitchen in Corfu, and revisits in his memoir, The Greek For Love.
The family moved to Toronto in 1987, at which point James started writing about food, wine and restaurants for Toronto Life. His monthly dining column ran until June 2010. As a freelance writer and editor he has written for most major Canadian publications and many others in England and the United States. He was food editor of Toronto Life Gardens (1996-97) and of Gardening Life (1997-2002). Enroute magazine’s wine columnist for four years, he writes regular wine and spirits columns for the LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine, where he is creative consultant and Senior Editor. He is also the editor of harry magazine, both in print and online, for Harry Rosen menswear stores.
Some of his short stories have been anthologised in England and for the U.S. school board; he is the author of three books about food, co-author of two more and has contributed to seven other cookbooks: The Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook (1990), The Eating Well Cookbook (USA, 1991), The Canadian Cooking Collection (1991), Country Cooking (1991), Canadian Living Desserts (1992), Canadian Living’s Best (1994) and Canadian Living’s Family Cookbook (1995). The winner of many Canadian and American awards for his food and travel writing, he has been nominated three times for James Beard Foundation awards and three times by the World Food Media Awards, most recently as the world’s best restaurant critic.
In 1990 he received a White award for Critical Writing on Food and Dining (USA). In 1991, he won a Tourism Industry Association Canada award and in 1993 a Pride award (USA) for his travel writing. He was awarded the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s Gold Award in 1994 and won a City & Regional Magazine Gold Award (USA/Canada) in 1995. James has been nominated for a National Magazine Award 20 times, but has only won once…
For his first book, The Seducer’s Cookbook (1981), he shared the Pink Pig Award with the novelist Barbara Cartland.
For his second book, A Kitchen in Corfu (1987), James and his wife, Wendy Martin, were declared Freemen of Corfu Town by the Mayor and Council in 2004.
His third book, The Man Who Ate Toronto, Memoirs of a Restaurant Lover (1998), is a personal view of the development of Toronto’s restaurant industry from 1955 to the present day. It was nominated for the 1999 Toronto Book Award and won awards from both Cuisine Canada and Heritage Toronto. An updated new edition, handsomely illustrated, was published by Madison Press in October 2012.
His fourth book, The Chef’s Table, co-written with Lucy Waverman and Tony Aspler, was a fundraiser for Second Harvest.
His fifth book, A Matter of Taste (2004), co-written with Lucy Waverman, is a national best seller, nominated for a James Beard award and winner of a Cordon d’Or award and Cuisine Canada’s gold award as best cookery book of the year.
The Greek for Love (2005) won the Drummer General’s award and was nominated for the 2006 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction.
In 2007, James was made a Chevalier of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage de France. He is also National Culinary Advisor and head judge for Canada’s Great Kitchen Party (an evolution of Gold Medal Plates), a national fundraising initiative, and co-founder and head judge of the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2010, he was honoured to judge Canada’s CCFCC Bocuse d’Or competition and to serve on the national advisory committee for the Governor General’s awards for Contribution to the Nation’s Table. In 2011, he received an honourary diploma in Media Studies from Niagara College. James was the first chair of Restaurants for Change, a fundraising initiative that benefits Community Food Centres Canada. In 2017 he won the Ontario Wine Awards award for Journalism.