Food and drink

Chef James Sharman on How to Create a Travelling Restaurant

The founding chef of One Star House Party reveals what it was like to create a restaurant that popped up in a new location monthly, from a Vietnamese train to Everest Base Camp

In 2016, after finishing at Noma, chef James Sharman founded One Star House Party: a travelling restaurant. Here he lists his most unforgettable behind-the-scenes experiences: an epic journey of AirBnbs, make-and-mend fixes, surprise ingredients and unexpected inspiration.

Jeju, South Korea

What people eat themselves is often more interesting than what they’re trying to show us, I find. The haenyo are these incredible elderly women who live on Jeju Island, free-diving for sea urchin and things. They inspired our menu. 

They use really basic methods of cooking, but in ways we wouldn’t have ever considered. Like they would dry seaweed so they could burn it to cook an urchin: you don’t do that! They reshuffled the rules with whatever they had.

Sapa, Vietnam

Nobody got paid, but nobody had to pay for anything: that was the deal. In Vietnam, we pretty much ran out of money. We booked a sleeper train from Sapa to Hanoi, got to the station with about 70 quid (HK$700) left and bought a couple of gas camping stoves and some ingredients. It’s a 12-carriage train; each carriage has six rooms, with four beds in each room. We booked the bottom-right bunk of six consecutive rooms in one carriage, sweet-talked the other people in our rooms, and turned our carriage into a restaurant that ran all night. We made just enough cash to get the bikes we needed to set up on our road trip.

Nha Trang, Vietnam

There’s a fishing port in Nha Trang where we got chatting to a captain who invited us fishing – we thought, for a couple of hours. Turns out, we were at sea for three days. We were required to pitch in with the work. It was honestly awful. But one piece of inspiration did strike: for dinner, the fishermen would each set aside one or two fish they liked, and then everyone had their own fish sauce made by their wives. It was amazing lining up all the sauces and seeing how different they were: like a wine tasting.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Base Camp is at about 5,500 metres. There are only a couple of thousand people who live in the Himalayas at that altitude, and they have their own cuisine. We met a dad who got his kids to eat vegetables by burying pumpkin in the snow, letting it freeze and then thawing it, served with just a bit of salt and sugar. I had done something similar in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and this guy was developing the same technique. From then on, we added pumpkin into as many dishes as we could.

Sichuan, China

For hundreds of miles around Chengdu are the farms where Sichuan peppercorns grow. One of my guys, Joe, matched with someone on Tinder and really hit it off. She invited us to come and stay. After a six-hour drive and a 45-minute hike, we get up to this farm, and her dad comes out. This guy is pissed. He didn’t know we were coming. Eventually he said we could stay in the staff quarters – if we worked. But out of the experience came an amazing dish. When you eat peppercorns fresh, they’re almost unrelated to the dried version: more like apple. And while we weren’t allowed to go in the house, he did let us take some trees with us to make a dish where we used the whole tree to cook a duck.

To start a globe-spanning pop-up, you will need…

1. AirBnb

‘It was almost exclusively AirBnb. Most of the time the hosts would know.’

2. Supplies

‘We took some stuff with us, like koji and kombucha. We had sourdough starters with us that we’d have to feed before a flight.’

3. A Married Couple

‘Being on the road is intense. You need a stable social dynamic to anchor you.’

4. Navigation skills

‘Get good at sailing, riding motorcycles, driving cars, buses, three-wheeled bikes… ‘

5. DIY skills

‘In Kenya our hosts stopped us from turning a lake house into a restaurant – so we built a giant raft in the middle of the public lake instead.’

6. Flexible thinking

‘We were trying to light a fire at Base Camp but it’s really hard to get a fire going when there’s no oxygen. So we got a drone to hover about four feet above the fire to get it going.’

Get a Taste

Find James Sharman’s pies at The Leah in Hong Kong. ‘I’d actually never made a pie before we opened this restaurant. But it was really nice to be able to spend a couple of days on pastry. It’s nice to take care over the simple things,’ he says.

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