Few chefs can truly claim to have inspired a food movement – but with his inventive approach to nose-to-tail cooking and commitment to celebrating every part of the animal, Fergus Henderson certainly can.
With no formal culinary training he worked at Smith's in Covent Garden and The Globe in Notting Hill before opening The French House Dining Room in Soho in 1992. St. JOHN in Smithfield followed in 1994, and St. JOHN Bread & Wine in Spitalfields and St. JOHN Maltby have since joined the fold.
"There wasn't really a concept behind the restaurant. We just wanted to have this place where everyone could come and eat good food. You, the customer, are the decoration" he told Esquire in 2014 of his first St. JOHN opening.
We caught up with him again to glean some simple cooking wisdom, from the secret to scrambled eggs to the easiest way to impress someone with food.
ESQUIRE: What's the best thing about your job?
Fergus Henderson: Lunch on tap! It's cheeky how much fun I have. The kitchen staff are fantastic chefs and so as soon as I wake up, I look forward to the lunchtime possibilities.
What's the one ingredient you can't live without?
Curly parsley. I like flat parsley too, but curly parsley is the essence of parsley. It's not a garnish, it should definitely have presence on a plate. By which I mean that a dish is not completed by a sprig of parsley; you need a dumper-truck approach.
What's the secret to cooking a perfect steak?
Have a flat pan, rather than ridged, for the perfect communion of heat and steak.
What do you always avoid ordering on a menu?
Anything that mentions broad beans as it inevitably leads to disappointment: there are never enough! I love broad beans. At St. JOHN you know you'll be satisfied on the broad bean front.
What tricks do you use for perfect scrambled eggs?
Scrambled eggs should be extremely gently cooked. Take them off the heat and let the pan finish them – creamy!
What is your go-to meal when you're low on time?
Beans on toast. Good roughage value.
What would your last meal be?
Sea urchins, followed by a ewe's milk cheese. Red burgundy should feature. Chocolate ice cream to finish, then dancing to Wilson Pickett.
What is the best recent food trend?
Mentioning 'trend' in the same breath as 'food' is a disaster. Trends don't last, which is why trends and food is not a good thing.
What dish gets the most likes on your Instagram?
No idea. My Instagram has lots of pictures of the inside of my pocket. But on our restaurant account, a fine Pig's Head Pie gets people's juices flowing.
What is a good simple piece of advice for pairing wine and food?
Just enjoy! Food and wine are the components of lunch, so they naturally get on. Be wary of "food and wine pairings", just go with how you feel.
What is your secret London restaurant recommendation?
Ikeda on Brook Street, Mayfair. It is a Japanese restaurant with a sense of authenticity. The meter runs quite fast, but it is worth it!
What dish are you bored of seeing on menus?
Avocado for breakfast! Bashed or smashed, with poached eggs…
What is your favourite British dish?
This is entirely mood-led. Could be deviled kidneys one day, or fish pie the next.
What country in the world has the best food?
If I was destined to eat only one country's food for the rest of my life, it would be Italian. It is simple, it never gets boring, and pasta is a wonderful thing.
Easiest meal to impress someone?
Caviar always gets a cheer, and all you have to do is open a tin.
Fergus and his restaurant, St John, are part of the Evening Standard London Food Month, 1-30 June