Q&A with Fergus Henderson: the father of nose-to-tail eating comes to Toronto

Q&A with Fergus Henderson: the father of nose-to-tail eating comes to Toronto

Fergus Henderson (Image: Laurie Fletcher) 

It’s not hard to discern the influence that chef Fergus Henderson—co-owner of London’s legendary St. John Restaurant and spiritual godfather to nose-to-tail dining—has had on Toronto’s food scene. Think beef cheeks (Foxley), sweetbreads (Cowbell) and bone marrow (Black Hoof). The self-trained chef is widely credited with revitalizing modern British cooking, and making offal and other dismissed animal parts worthy of a Michelin star. Henderson will be making the keynote speech at Terroir, the Toronto hospitality industry symposium, on March 1. We recently spoke with the low-key chef, who shared his feelings on the new popularity of offal, misconceptions about his cooking and his future projects.

How does that make you feel when chefs cite you as the influence behind the current interest in nose-to-tail dining?
Oh dear, I’m a little surprised. It’s weird, I can’t explain what happened, but it’s marvellous. I wasn’t trained as a chef. I do whatever that comes from my head. I’ve never seen it as a war cry, just “gosh, wow, it’s some good tripe.” Do you know what I mean? Take the pig. The head alone has many good foods: the cheeks, the ears you can press into soft jelly, or the snout.

How about horse? That’s been taking off a little around here.
Oh, I don’t quite care for horse. It’s a little bit too chewy.

Are there misconceptions about your type of cuisine?
It’s not a contest for who’s got the scariest thing on the menu. It’s just something to eat. I went to New York for a chef’s supper and they served me half a sheep’s head. The brain was a bit raw. It would have been delicious—but not raw. Offal should be loved and nurtured.

What’s your feeling about the rising interest in local sourced or foraged foods? Does it factor into your own menu?
I think Noma’s an amazing restaurant and René Redzepi is a fantastic chef. The whole concept is brilliant. Many chefs try to cook seasonal and local, but they lack common sense. Noma’s an extraordinary example; the dishes are wonderful. But I’m not one to try new concepts. Perhaps I just know through my nose and cook.

You’re coming to make the keynote speech at Terrior V. What are you most looking forward to when you’re in Toronto?
Toronto is new to me—I’ve heard lovely things, and I’m going to see what happens. I’m looking forward to an adventure.

Terroir, Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle. March 1, 7:30 a.m-6:30 p.m. terroirsymposium.com.