Thanks to Maximal Concepts and Blue Butcher for an opportunity to Interview Chef Fergus Henderson, from London’s Michelin Starred St John Restaurant. He is internationally acclaimed as the founding father of British Nose to Tail dining back in the late 1990’s, and I have been following his updates for more than a decade as an excited foodie… He came past Hong Kong for a 1 night cooking event at Blue Butcher HK. Having previously visited his restaurant in London, this time I directed some questions at Chef Henderson and I hope our conversation will also be interesting for you, and for myself, finding out answers to some of my long term curious questions.
Chef Fergus Henderson,
The Pioneer of Nose-to-Tail dining using predominantly British recipes.
His work and his numerous publications have spawned a World-wide movement with this methodological approach to respect all parts of the animal.
1 - Where do you think the Dining Trend is headed in London and the UK in 2014?
The food movement is divided in the UK at the moment. Fine Dining is still all sound and going on well there, but I have heard once that I was the person firstly responsible for killing them with my style of cooking! (Chef Henderson says with a big grin!). There are certainly more approachable and casual restaurants popping up over there right now..
2 - Do you think Pellegrino's Top 50 Restaurants in the World list will affect the way restaurants operate in the future? Is this a good thing or a bad influence?
Well, we have been Up and Down on this list for St John ourselves… Yes it is good to be on the list but it's not a worry to us, even Gordon Ramsay was come and go. I am held responsible for cooking approachable food with only high quality ingredients and with my cooking philosophy, rather than piling on garnishes to look glamorous. We have a Michelin star under our name so that is endorsement enough, and in our restaurants we also sell Pastries & Bread, we have pretty good Doughnuts! Also Eccles cake with Cheese pairings. It doesn't deter us from our food aims!
3 – In Hong Kong and Japanese culture, we also love offal. Have you considered opening a restaurant in these cities and showcasing the British style of Nose to Tail Dining to your Asian admirers?
No. Not at the moment actually. I think when you come all the way over to visit us in London and for UK’s food, it will be a different experience. The space and also our weather, it’s all a unique experience. You never know what will happen after this trip but to me, places like in Singapore have attracted big names to open restaurants inside the large casino complex. It really isn't our restaurant style but we will see.
4 - Your push for the Nose to Tail eating movement and Publications have been insightful and inspirational for many chefs and diners around the world. I have always wanted to ask - do you have particular dishes that your kitchen loves to cook up, but fear that customers might not be receptive to them ?
We are glad most people come to visit us intentionally nowadays, already knowing what they will be up for with our more off-cuts & offal dishes. It is definitely getting easier than at the beginning and we now have less restrictions. We also cater for Vegetarian customers and we also love fish for those who come along with others chowing down on a feast. Our Pig's Blood Cake however has undergone some minor tuning changes to suit the modern customers. The traditional recipe called for larger pork fat pieces, and they are now replaced with more meat from the Pig's head and smaller diced fat. Our menu also changes daily or hourly depending on the remaining animal's carcasses and parts available. “Let Nature write the Menu” is the key to St John's philosophy.
5 - Britain has really good cow offerings from memory. What do you think of Wagyu Beef as a comparison?
Yes I like it but it's a bit grimmy. It's much more oilier and missing a bit of bite and chew in the mouth. I prefer real beef meat but they are different. I like it too sometimes but not as a daily meat.
6 - When I visited your restaurant, we drank mostly Southern French wines and they can also be ordered to go. Do your recipes also pair well with local British Beers or Whisky?
We go to France to find our own wines, we also have a Wine Company now which imports them. Britain goes way back in history with France's Bordeaux and Burgundy region with wine trading so it is very natural. My heart lies in Burgundy and I love it but nowadays we also have our own vineyard in Southern France in Minervois. Lots of people order beers in our restaurants but the red wine is a better pairing. As for Whisky, we love to eat it with Scottish short bread - which are crumbly and dry and we then keep drinking more whisky as a result, it’s a dangerous cycle!
7 - Apart from Cooking, I think we all want to know what are your favorite Hobbies when living life away from the kitchen?
I still just love eating and drinking even outside of my own kitchen. Otherwise it's cooking again and a bit of browsing around.
8 - What is your favorite cuisine and does it change?
Any good food cooked well is good, any cuisine for me. Japanese, Chinese, Italian, I can carry on & on. I went to Florence in Italy and it was staple food done so well. Our lamb was simply cooked but melt in your mouth gorgeous and very memorable. The cooking aspect part is important.
approaching how you construct a new dish? Since I was also trained in this field myself.
9 – My Personal question. Does your Architectural training give you certain mindsets on
Yes it does help. I am not building up the food for their looks just like buildings. We hire many chefs and then we can use this training background in teaching them, why certain things have to be done in that particular order and approach.
*At BLUE BUTCHER Hong Kong -
Dutch Veal Cheek with Sweetbread and Truffled Orzo pasta.
A recipe which also utilizes some offal organs as part of the Main Course, an approach which is what Chef Henderson praises in his food philosophy.
Thanks once again to MAXIMAL Concepts and Blue Butcher HK for the chance to interview Chef Henderson from London. Here’s hoping that everyone will have a Warm winter and more Happy Offal Eating during Christmas and New Years.
Blue Butcher (Hong Kong)
108 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island.
Ph: 2613 9286
St John Restaurant (London)
Address: 26 St John St, London EC1M 4AY, United Kingdom
Ph: +44 20 7251 0848
St John Bread & Wine (London)
Address: 94-96 Commercial St, London E1 6LZ, United Kingdom
Ph: +44 20 7251 0848