My Life In Food: Fergus Henderson


A pioneer of nose-to-tale eating and a long-time advocate of the joys of offal, Henderson opened his Michelin-starred restaurant, St John, in London's Clerkenwell in 1994. Along with business partner Trevor Gulliver, he has since opened another restaurant, St John Bread and Wine in east London, and the St John Hotel in central London. He will be cooking a five-course banquet at the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire in August.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I think a wooden spoon would probably be my most used thing. It is useful for stirring things, and, of course, for beating people. It's one of those useful, easy things. I don't go in for kitchen gadgets at all, really. Basic is my way. I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to that sort of thing.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I'd go to Bar Italia in Soho, which is near to where we live. I'd have a coffee and a little sandwich. They do a fine tomato, cheese and ham grilled ciabatta. And also I'd get a Fernet Branca. That would sort you out for £10.

What do you eat for comfort?

Cheese on toast, probably. Everyone likes that, don't they? I usually have a loaf of St John sourdough bread in the house, so that is a good starting point. Sourdough keeps so well – it is a fine loaf. And, in terms of cheese, I'd use up any of the little bits from the fridge. So my choice is practical then, as well as comforting.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Bread is fundamental. It is like a knife and fork. It's almost a tool, and it's lovely. I couldn't not have toast, too. Though I would miss potatoes very much. Mashed potato, baked, roast – they are all things I would be sad without. But still, bread has it.

What's your desert-island recipe?

Its tricky. I couldn't narrow it to one thing. Its very mood-led: you wake up and think "ooh, kidneys" or "ooh, fish pie". So I wouldn't want just one recipe and one thing.

What's your favourite restaurant?

My favourite restaurant? That is difficult. One I'd miss if it was no longer there is Le Chef in Beirut. It is a wonderful, funny, crazy place. They do lovely chickpea dishes. I first visited a couple of decades ago for a wedding and my friend introduced me to the chef. It's an extraordinary place, made more so by the fact that it has survived all troubles that have occurred around it.

What's your favourite cookbook?

I always say Marcella Hazan, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I like her way: it is all very simple and all the recipes she writes work wonderfully. It is very impressive, I think.

Who taught you to cook?

My mum taught me to cook. At home in Lancashire. It is surprising how many chefs' mums come from Lancashire. It is a very odd thing but you find it quite often. I can remember the first thing I ever cooked with her: it was Oeufs á la neige, which is floating islands egg white on custard. Don't know why, really – it sticks in my mind, though. I'm not sure how old I was at the time – young, though. A very long time ago.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?

I would give them the advice my mother gave to me: when boiling meat, do it gently, don't go crazy. It's good advice.

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