Monday, April 12, 2004

Meet Fergus Henderson

A British chef, who has no formal training and cooks traditional British cuisine, known for cooking what is often considered the least desirable bits of the animal, seems an unlikely celebrity. But Fergus Henderson, proprietor of London restaurant St. John and author of The Whole Beast--Nose to Tail Eating is a celebrity of sorts. His restaurant is a top stop for foodies, and he has gained the praise of chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali. Bourdain actually wrote the introduction to his book.

At Sur La Table at the Ferry Building Farmers Market today Fergus Henderson spoke about his style of cooking. In typically British manner, he started off by saying that "if you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing". He talked of not trying to shock anyone, simply wanting to serve the parts that "lie beyond the fillet". Explaining that the texture and flavor of those cuts is not to be missed. But that the names "offal" and "organ meats" leave something to be desired...!

One of the signature dishes at Henderson's restaurant is "Veal Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad". He shared that part of his love for the dish comes from the fact that it is assembled at the table by the diner. The dish is not a fait d'accompli, that there is a magic in last minute seasoning, that the diner gets to enjoy some of the alchemy of the kitchen by getting to scrape the marrow from the bone onto the toast, seasoning with coarse sea salt and then adding the parsley salad to taste. As for the parsley salad, Henderson said, you want to chop the parsley four or five times to discipline it, rather than defeat it.

Taking on these meats--trotters, tripe, kidneys, chitterlings and the like, said Henderson, takes a leap of faith. You must embrace your ingredients, that as soon as there is any twinge of fear the ingredients know it and misbehave. Don't you just love the British?

The book covers not only meat, but fish and vegetables and his philosophy with those is the same, respect the whole thing, use the whole thing, and enjoy it. A sentiment that hopefully we can all appreciate.