James Coward is living the dream.

The chef patron of Les Bouviers in Canford Magna has been running his own business since the age of 23 and now has it down to a fine art.

Originally set up as a small, family-run French-inspired restaurant – a nod to James’s training in several French restaurants as well as a stint under French chef Raymond Blanc – the business now also boasts rooms, having moved to bigger premises seven years ago.

“I’ve always wanted something with rooms and with space,” explains James.

“This was a domestic house that we managed to get change of use for in 2005 and it’s a working project now.”

Space is something Les Bouviers is certainly not short of. Set in five-and-a-half acres of landscaped grounds, it can cater for up to 120 sit-down wedding guests, but retains an intimate feel by using several smaller rooms for the restaurant.

Boasting a number of awards, including two AA Rosettes, James is proud of the reputation the restaurant has, although he is keen to attract more of the local community to sample Les Bouviers’ fine dining.

“I wanted to be a pilot more than anything,” he admits. “But you need qualifications and I didn’t like school. So I ended up going to catering college and found it very inspiring – it gave me the chance to express. I’m not an artist, but I can do things with food that are artistic.

“I was at Bournemouth and Poole College for two years to get my NVQs, then set out to do the best I could in a chosen industry that I had put my heart and soul into.”

James’s wife Kate now works in the restaurant alongside him and their three children, aged 24, 11 and four, have grown up with the business.

The family has weathered the recession and continues to attract both local and international trade, thanks to its fine reputation.

“We are as expensive as you want to make us,” explained James. “We offer everything but it’s up to you if you decide to take it. It’s French-influenced fine dining – with all the restaurants I’ve worked in they’ve been predominantly French chefs.

“I work with the seasons, and with the markets. I work locally and we change the menus every day depending what the suppliers have available to me.”

“Everything here I make, from bread, ice creams, sorbets, scones, jams and petits fours.”

The restaurant offers morning coffees and breakfasts, lunch and afternoon tea, as well as a range of formal celebrations.

In addition, James has opened a bistro with a more relaxed dining experience at Les Bouviers’ former premises on nearby Oakley Hill roundabout. He is also contemplating the idea of running cookery courses to share his passion.

“I’ve got so many people asking,” he said.“I like to explain the basics to people. I find it interesting and I love to see people develop. I’m very passionate about it and I’m determined.

“This is a job you can’t do half-heartedly at this level.

Signature dish – Pan-fried Wild Cod on Chorizo and Courgette Risotto with Basil Oil

James’s top tips when cooking fish are to make sure it is accompanied by a good sauce and the fish is free when it comes in.
Scale the fish and lightly score the skin so when it cooks it doesn’t curl up. Salt and pepper the fish and put it in the pan skin side down. Shake the pan, then add a knob of butter so it doesn’t stick. Cook slowly.
For the chorizo risotto, start with very finely chopped shallots or onions. Sweat them off, add risotto rice and then slowly incorporate liquid or stock – vegetable, meat or fish.
Slice chorizo, add some olive oil then put under the grill to cook.
Serve with seasonal vegetables and some swede puree.
“Try and make the dish as light as possible because the fish is light,” explained James.
Finish by topping with some basil oil.