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Many a strange sight has been seen on Everest, but when the One Star House Party arrived at Base Camp carrying a dining room table, this probably took some beating. The team was there to host one of pop-up restaurants, which it is now holding in venues all over the world.
The One Star House Party is the brainchild of ex-Noma chef James Sharman and his friends Trisha McCrae (ex-GM for Soho House) and Kevin McCrae (Tom Aikens alumni). The trio decided to combine their love of food and travel and spend the next two years hosting 20 pop-up restaurants over 20 months in 20 different countries. “We imagined our restaurant bustling with gauchos in Argentina, Sherpas in Mount Everest and the street food traders in Vietnam,” says Sharman.
But rather than cook the same dishes that they would present in London or Denmark, the team decided to create local dishes with their own twist.
They started their epic culinary adventure in Beijing and then travelled to Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok, before taking on what would be the most testing pop-up of all – opening a restaurant at Base Camp, Everest. It wasn’t the first time that a chef had tried to launch a pop-up restaurant at the highest place on Earth, but so far all attempts had failed.
“We were hell bent on visiting Nepal, as the only thing that we knew about Nepalese food, was that the majority of ‘Nepalese,’ restaurants outside of country were actually serving Indian food,” says Sharman. “Building the restaurant at Base Camp was a way to make people take a second look at Nepalese food for what it is.”
Their food discoveries in Nepal were nothing like they had encountered before. “We had duck tongue, sheep spleen and liver. It was some of the most memorable food we have had on our journey and the most tasty,” says Sharman.
Once they had finalised their menu for Everest, they then had to pack all their ingredients in jars, and carry everything they needed to make this pop-up restaurant a success. It would take them nine days to reach Base Camp. And on arrival, one of the first things that they saw was an avalanche.
However, Sharman said that the challenges that came with this record-breaking dinner party were more than worth it. “The techniques we learnt from the people growing, cooking and living under such adverse conditions are some of the most cherished lessons we’ve come across so far,” said Sharman.
From here, the One Star House Party team flew to Mumbai (where the currency changed just as they were setting up the restaurant), and then on to Oman and Nairobi. Each pop-up has attracted 40 guests per night who are made up of food critics, gourmands and locals. “The guests we are always the most apprehensive about cooking for are the locals,” said Sharman. “The people who grew up with the cuisine that you’ve spent endless sleepless nights trying to master. There has been a few scary moments before opening where I’ve thought “I’m about to open a restaurant serving food to guests who understand this cuisine better than I ever will.””
But the chefs shouldn’t worry about not meeting the challenge as they spend at least a month in the country doing their research. They’ve taken mini masterclasses street food chefs in Ho Chi Minh; they’ve hiked up mountains on the edge of the Chengdu region to pick Sichuan pepper; they’ve visited the salt flats of Korea and they’ve joined the octogenarian female divers of Jeju to collect the perfect catch.
And in each country, they have managed to produce dishes worthy of the one Michelin star that the team jokingly gave themselves when they launched the project. The only real major differences that they’ve discovered between working in regular restaurant and hosting a pop-up the chefs say is equipment and routine – two things that kitchens rely on heavily. “We can only travel with what we can fit into our suitcases. Ovens, stoves, sous vide machines are all off the table for us,” Sharman explains. “This does however have an upside, as it steers us towards using techniques locals would use, such as clay barbecues in Vietnam or charcoal pressured ovens in Kenya. It forces us to steer away from the techniques we’ve spent the last 10 years learning and to cook and see the food the way the locals would.”
Chef James Sharman has recently opened The Leah restaurant in Hong Kong. However, his next pop-up restaurant could be on water as he plans to soon sail from Hong Kong to London.
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