He looked up to its founder Michael O'Hare after watching him on BBC's Great British Menu and, deciding he had nothing to lose, went for the position.
James got the job - and uprooted his life more than 250 miles away from his home near Bournemouth.
"As soon as I came home from a trial shift, I told my mum and dad I was moving to Leeds " the 27-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
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“They were shocked. I never went to university and it was a similar situation - you’re in a different city, you’re on your own and you’ve got to make friends while doing your job.
"It was extremely hard as it was the first time I’d moved out and been away from my family, but it was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
James is now the head chef at 7 Steps in Pudsey, a modern British restaurant founded by chef Joe Crowe and the former landlord of The Bank House Inn Neil Crampton.
The position was the perfect fit for James, who joined the team around two years ago and has been given free rein to craft the menu.
"It’s not a huge menu, but it offers something for everyone," James added.
“I love cooking fish and shellfish, but my favourite dish at the minute is our lamb dish. It’s lightly spiced with harissa with a spiced aubergine puree and mash that incorporates the fat that’s been rendered down from the lamb.
"It isn’t something I’d necessarily order but every time I taste it, I love it."
7 Steps' Sunday roasts have won the 'Best Sunday Lunch' category at the H&N EAT awards for four years running. This year, James is up for 'Best Chef' in the same competition and hopes to come away with the prize.
“The whole team is like a little family," James said.
"I meet up with Neil and Joe after service and it’s nice to have a catch-up over a beer, have a laugh and then look at what we can explore on the menu.
"We have a daily experiment which gives us the chance to try new flavours and textures - quite a few of our menu dishes are added from the specials. There’s a farm shop just around the corner where we can get local produce and take advantage of it.
“And we're starting to offer more unique menus such as tasting menus, which is something I’m excited to explore."
The small 7 Steps team pride themselves on their personable service, whether diners are popping in for a pint and a burger or celebrating a special occasion.
James added: “It’s nice to be away from the mayhem in Leeds. We’re tucked up out the way and it's great when we get people stumble across us.
"Pudsey isn’t a busy town, but it’s up-and-coming and we fit in really nicely.
“We talk to a lot of our customers and when they say, ‘the food was amazing and we’ll be back next week’, it’s the best feeling - it's what keeps you going."
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