Mr P. My Way: Mr James Henry
The Parisian chef serves up his thoughts on seasonal style
Mr James Henry appears to have spent the majority of his career in the grip of a chronic wanderlust. Originally from Australia, the 35-year-old chef worked at restaurants in Melbourne, Byron Bay and Tasmania before packing up his pots and pans and heading to Paris. There, he made his name at Au Passage before leaving in 2013 to start his own restaurant – an intimate, bare-bones bistro in the 11th arrondissement called, suitably, Bones. Two years later, after an epic, 4,000km gastronomic road trip from northern Sweden to southern Spain, he abruptly called time on his restaurant and headed back to Australia. Months later, he jetted off again, this time to set up a casual French bistro in Hong Kong. The restaurant, Belon, is still there. Mr Henry, ever the culinary nomad, is not.
With his latest venture, though, the globetrotting chef appears to be finally putting down roots. Literally. “We’ll have a full-time gardener,” he says of the project, a farm restaurant on the outskirts of Paris that’s set to open in 2019. “But everyone in the kitchen will spend two hours a day working in the garden.” The idea, he says, is to offer diners a unique experience in which “someone who planted a seed three months ago will be able to go outside, harvest the life they initiated and serve it to you at that moment, as fresh as it can be”. The goal of the restaurant is to challenge the traditional definition of luxury. “What is luxury? Is it foie gras from 600km away and caviar from Iran? Or is it a bowl of peas that were picked three minutes before they arrived at the table? What this restaurant will provide, I hope, is an experience that you can’t just buy anywhere, and that doesn’t depend on how much money you have.”
This won’t be the only way that the new restaurant challenges industry standards. Mr Henry also plans to introduce a four-day working week for all of his staff. “They’ll work a more intense day, but have three days to themselves every week,” he says. “That’s one day to let your hair down, one day to do nothing and one day to take care of your tasks, whatever they may be.” It’s a strategy that he hopes will go some way to alleviating the pressures of working in the notoriously tough restaurant business.
What has time out of the kitchen done for your sense of perspective?
Having this moment to reflect on the way I want to work, it’s such a gift. Coming in at 8.00am and finishing at midnight... I just thought that’s the way things are. Now, when I look back at how hard I’ve worked over the past 10 years, I realise how important it is for me to carve out the life I want to live.
Do you foresee any difficulties in implementing a four-day working week?
I don’t expect it to be entirely straightforward. But if we can get past the economic pressure and prove that it’s possible to work in this way, then I think it’s a model that more people will start to look at. I just think everyone would be happier if they had the time to appreciate their work, and didn’t feel like they had to fight for it.
Mr P. Slim-Fit Stretch Wool and Cotton-Blend Drawstring Trousers Coming soon
What do you look for in clothes?
The way I like to refine my work is to see what’s necessary and then start to take things away. So you’re picking away and picking away until you have almost zero artifice. There’s nothing superfluous on the plate and everything’s there for a reason. My wardrobe’s the same. It tends to be quite minimal and multi-functional. I like clothes that I can wear to a restaurant, to a punk gig, or even to work if I have to.
So you’re not much of a consumer?
Not really. The whole idea of the farm is to be as self-sufficient and as sustainable as possible, so this idea of “fast fashion”, of creating just to consume, is not something I can really get behind. It’s contradictory to the way I’d like to work in the future. I relate much more to the idea of buying one piece, one pair of well-made trousers that’ll last a few years.