So how exactly does one capture the flavour profile of a country or city in four days, in seven courses? “For a couple of people, the first impression of ’20’ is that we are trying to sum up an entire country’s foodscape. But the point is that it’s just stuff we’ve found and enjoyed and had fun with.
“Cape Town has been quite easy because everyone speaks English and it’s more attuned with where food is coming from and where it’s going. But then you go to places like Vietnam and the only way you can really follow what’s local is by using the local markets. Places where you couldn’t even hope of exchanging a word but know that nothing has been flown in. It’s what people use because that’s what they can afford. You know that this is the real flavor profile of the place.”
What did he discover in Cape Town? “It’s a snapshot of what we’ve had here. There have been a couple of really interesting dishes that I’d never seen or heard of before but overall it’s the ingredients here that really shine. In some countries there is quite a fixed idea of what the food is and the techniques that go into that food. Thai food for example is very much dictated by ingredients like fish sauce and that gives a very clear profile of the 12 dishes people know and would expect to see in a Thai restaurant. South African food is a little more creatively up for grabs. We found ingredients that I haven’t seen for years. I probably tasted the best celeriac I’ve ever had. The climate and soil all just work here. The ingredients here have definitely taken precedent.”
Apart from the celeriac, the most exciting discovery for Sharman has been springbok. “I’ve fallen in love with springbok. I’ve never seen anything quite as lean but it doesn’t lose flavour. We met the guys at Ryan Boon [Speciality Meats] and they’re hanging the springbok shoulders so long and soak them in milk, which neutralises the blood. According to him it’s an age-old technique. It literally changes the gaminess of the meat and breaks down all the proteins. And wine grapes, I love them for cooking as well.”
With each pop-up restaurant funding the next, it’s not only undiscovered ingredients and food culture that give this incredible project its edge. Success here takes them on to Florence, which will be 9th on a journey that began in China. Vietnam followed, then Thailand and Nepal where they did the base camp of Everest. Oman then India, a floating restaurant in Kenya on a raft they built in Tigoni outside of Nairobi, and now Woodstock until May 11.
“One crazy night, we decided the whole trip. We literally started with about 75 countries. We rely heavily on Post-Its, so everything goes up on the wall in different sections. All the countries went up on the wall, our favourite ingredients, people we hoped to meet, ideas for venues, and it all worked itself out and we had a journey. What you experience here is no bullshit. That’s a very rare thing I think. Everyone is different but we can come and chat to you for 15 minutes if that feels right. It’s very honest and very raw.”
Stay and chat they certainly do. Cooking is done in full view and each course is presented in person by one of the chefs who explains each dish and happily hovers a while to answer any questions you may have or just to chat.
Having experienced the full spread, I believe that revealing every detail would be totally unfair and I encourage readers to book right away.
Each course was a marvel but highlights included the extremely tender beef, prepared and hung like biltong for four hours before being warmed on the Weber, then served sliced with smoked beetroot and a hazelnut puree, with freshly baked bread on the side.