Andy Lynes / October 2011
Food Arts presents the October 2011 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to the British chef/restaurateur Fergus Henderson, whose influential nose-to-tail approach to cooking at his London restaurant St. John leaves no cut of meat or internal organ wasted. “Without ever intending it, Fergus has became the most influential chef in the world,” says Anthony Bourdain, who has long been Henderson’s most loyal and vocal fan. “He’s a Titan and a personal hero.”
Despite the success of St. John, opened in 1994 and located symbolically close to the historic Smithfield’s meat market, Henderson and his business partner, Trevor Gulliver, are no empire builders. In 2003, they opened St. John Bread and Wine opposite Spitalfields Market and followed it up this year with their first West End venture, the St. John Hotel. They currently have no plans to open more.
“Having three seems greedy,” says the self-effacing Henderson over a mid-morning glass of Fernet-Branca, the Italian bitter that has become as much associated with the chef as his signature royal blue French worker’s coat and the round horn-rimmed glasses that give him the owlish look of an Oxford scholar.
Henderson’s CV is surprisingly brief. A trained architect (he’s responsible for St. John’s austere design), he found work in the kitchens of The Globe nightclub in Notting Hill before running the dining room at The French House pub in Soho with his wife, Margot, in the early 1990s. He found inspiration for what has become his signature dish of roasted bone marrow and parsley salad just before opening St. John. “I got the idea for the dish while watching La Grande Bouffe at The Everyman Cinema in Hampstead on a Saturday afternoon in 1993. It’s a ’70s art house film about a group of gentlemen who gather to eat themselves to death. There’s a scene where they’re sucking on roasted bones, and I thought, ‘There’s a dish for me!’”
Henderson’s achievements are even more impressive considering he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998 and underwent an operation in 2005 to implant electrodes in his brain to control the shaking and twitching associated with the condition.
Henderson has written two best-selling cookbooks—The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail. He says he has one more “rather strange” book in him that he will illustrate himself.
Aside from helping the Western world rediscover its appetite for offal and encouraging chefs to use the whole beast—“It’s just polite to the animal once you’ve knocked it on the head to use it all,” he says—perhaps his greatest contribution has been to prove that the best way to be successful and please others is to please yourself first. As Henderson admits, “There was never any great plan. It’s just common sense really.”