Local Chef James Sharman Goes International
At sixteen I met a chef called Steven Leary (Paul’s brother.) At the time I was a commis chef/kitchen porter. His approach to the food and the team was different to everyone else. He made me see cooking as more than a way to pay the rent, to him it was a lifestyle choice. Through Steve I met Paul at The Woodhouse. From the moment I saw the food they were cooking and the way their little team worked so hard for each other, I was hooked!
Next up was The City Rooms, ran by Kiran Parmar and his family. Mostly weddings and big functions. Whilst we served the simplest food I had seen, I still say it was one of the most rewarding places I’ve worked. Eighty hour weeks one on one with veteran chef, ‘Nigel James,’ I accrued a wealth of knowledge about basic classical french food and the precise time management required when cooking for two hundred people with two chefs.
Come Dine Catering, was a small enterprise I started with a school friend, ‘Tom Danson.’ It was simpe cooking and serving dinner parties in clients homes. Looking back, I’m very proud of what we achieved with such limited resources. He had a car, a shirt and he knew how to make a basic website, whilst I could cook. That was all we needed. For a little business that we squeezed into our days off, we managed to make a bit of money, this funded my next big jump.
Moving to London alone at 18 years old was a daunting prospect, but something I felt I needed to do. i had stayed up at night reading about chefs like ‘Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wearing and Tom Aikens.’ I felt there was so much more to being a chef than what I’d seen so far.
After handing out over 30 cv’s I managed to get a job at a restaurant called Tom’s Kitchen, in Chelsea. It’s an English style brasserie owned by Tom Aikens. I Rented a Flat in a high rise building in Stockwell, one of the most terrifying areas of London, (to an 18 year old boy anyway). For the first few weeks I remember hiding in the walk in fridge my first few nights, waiting until everyone had gone home and locked up, so that I could sleep in the restaurant. I was afraid to get the tube back alone at night.
Tom’s Kitchen was great, I worked my way through the meat, garnish and fish sections over the next year, whilst I came to grips with London. I made a few friends in the other chefs, and met a lot of different characters from different corners of the globe.
Tom Aikens michelin star restaurant was just across the road from Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea, the chefs on the sections next to me would tell stories and spread rumours about what happened at this mysterious kitchen. I heard that if you were 30 mins late you would be expected to do 30 press ups, and the price for over seasoning something was cleaning the walk in freezer. One of the more imaginative Tom’s Kitchen waiters told me that the chef had a variety of different sized spoons, ready to strike the head of anyone that hadn't correctly followed their recipe, the size of the spoon was relevant to the gravity of the offence.
Back then around 1 in 3 new chefs would endure their first month, the rest would sneak out after lunch service or not come in the morning after a difficult dinner service the night before. These chefs were branded by the remaining chefs as the,’walk outs.’ On one occasion there was a particularly high number of, ‘walk outs,’ and I found myself being drafted across the road to make up the number’s. I was in...
As you walk down the narrow corridor of the huge basement kitchen, you could feel the tension and pressure building. I had never felt an atmosphere like it.
My first year at, TA,’ involved pretty much saying goodbye to friends, family and in most cases, sunlight. It was so worth it, Tom was revered like a God among the other chefs. He wasn't like other celebrity chefs, doing interviews and book signings all day. He was cooking with the rest of us, only better and faster. Every plate looked like a painting. We all watched each other progress, day by day, getting faster and more efficient.
As I worked my way through the ranks Tom took me to help him cook at lots of events. We catered the World Economic Forum, in Switzerland, a dinner for David Cameron and he sent me for a few weeks working for free (staging in chef jargon) at a restaurant called Corton in NYC.
This summer I’m moving to Hong Kong for a year to open Tom’s new Restaurant, ‘The Botanical.’ Located in the Wan Chai district. It’s going to be a restaurant largely driven by the huge garden we’re building on the rooftop, supplying the restaurant with all manner of herbs, fruits and vegetables.
The next step after Hong Kong, will be a return home, to create a restaurant into which I can drive everything I’ve learnt and am still to learn, with the goal of compelling young chefs from Leicestershire to feel the same passion for food that I do.
Some of James’Notable experiences.
• Becoming the youngest junior sous chef at Tom Aikens
• (21 years old.)
• Cooking for the major Google shareholders at the world
• economic forum, Davos, Switzerland.
• Staging in New York at 2 michelin star Corton, with
• Chef Paul Liebrnadt.
• Working at, ‘The Principal,’ Hong kong.
• Working as a private chef for some of the Abramovich family,
• In their Kensington penthouse.
• Dinner party for David Cameron
Image credits: ‘Lucy Bracciale.’