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It’s not everyday you get to write the words "Cor Blimey" and "Way hay" in an article, in fact, sitting down to pen a piece about Fergus Henderson, you can’t help but wonder if he’s the only chef who could offer up such lively, colloquial answers.
It’s this conversational style of answering, his humorous approach to life, dedicated work in the kitchen and his unrivalled ability to wax lyrical about the importance of something as simple as snacking, that’s gained him thousands loyal fans, especially amongst chefs.
When news broke he was the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna (an event Fine Dining Lovers will be streaming live here) chefs from across the list expressed their joy, after all, it was Henderson’s St John restaurant that many would disappear to after the 50 Best ceremony - happy to meet up, discuss the evening and tuck into his now famous whole roast suckling pig. Nose-to-tail in all its glory.
Born in 1963 and originally training as an architect, Henderson took his first cooking job at Smith’s Restaurant in Covent Garden while studying at the Architectural Association. From here he worked at a number of other restaurants before taking over the dining room at The French House pub in Soho with his wife Margot. A meeting with his current business partner Trevor Gulliver (pictured above), over supper (how very Henderson), led to the opening of St John in Smithfield, London.
His simple approach to design, music, setting and cooking, have led many to describe him as ‘honest’. His push to use lesser known cuts of meat, offal and ingredients often overlooked, led him to coin the term “Nose-to-Tail Eating” - a phrase used in the titles of his popular cookbooks.
Simple is good for Henderson: “At St John we cook indigenous ingredients in a way that is hopefully appropriate for the season and the mood. It is a restaurant which has none of the usual culinary props... no marble, no art, no music or low voltage lighting. You, the customer, are our decoration!”
Dishes such as Dr Henderson Ice Cream and Roasted Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad have brought him praise from chefs all over the world - some even list homages to him on their menu (The Clove Club). His service to the development of British gastronomy is something that led to him being awarded an MBE, he was humble and modest in its acceptance, the same as the, “Cor Blimey, happy and proud’ response given when asked how he felt about his Lifetime Achievement.
His honest, frank and accepting approach to Parkinson’s disease, and the groundbreaking procedure he undertook to treat it, showed his resilience. He is an inspirational story for many and his work in promoting a certain kitchen philosophy has spurred many young chefs to take up the profession.
He has worked at the heart of British gastronomy and will receive The Lifetime Achievement on April 28th at London’s Guildhall, a night to honour someone who has helped to raise the profile of British cuisine.
Henderson's happy about how British gastronomy is developing and says he wants to see more of the same, adding: “It seems more confident I think. In the last few years it has been finding itself, like Glenn Miller looking for his sound.”