This month we chat to one of London’s most influential chefs, Margot Henderson. Having honed her simple, earthy style with her husband Fergus, founder of the celebrated St. John restaurant, Margot now runs a catering business and the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch. Hidden behind an unmarked door, the Canteen is housed in a converted bike shed in the oldest council estate in Europe. There, surrounded by the practical, no-nonsense red-brick buildings, we sat down to discuss Margot’s love for the British countryside, her influences and why she enjoys catering for groups.
What appeals to you about cooking for large numbers of people?
Feeding the masses – it’s my motherly instinct. I’ve always enjoyed cooking because it’s how to make friends when you’re younger, and to create something is a great pleasure in life. Making good food that works for large groups of people is hugely satisfying.
People have described your style as simple and unpretentious and yet at the same time there is a sophistication in your food. How do you achieve that?
Well we’re celebrating the produce that we buy – we’ve got a great knowledge of produce and what’s in season. We’re sourcing everything ourselves and really care about where it comes from. So in someways there’s a sophistication just in the produce, just in the raw materials.
Then there’s style in the way it’s put down on the plate. It’s not pretentious, it’s just trying to do it in the simplest way, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Like with Sekford it’s about knowing what to leave out, and sometime’s that’s really hard.
How did you learn what to leave out?
I learnt from Fergus! But I was already going that way. I had gone to work at a restaurant called Chophouse to learn simplicity and straightforwardness, and I was just drawn to Fergus. I ate one of his dishes – it was pigeon and peas – and all I get on my plate is pigeon and peas. I thought, “bloody hell! This guy is just brilliant”. I thought it was wild because it flew in the face of everything that was happening at the time.
As a New Zealander what does British food represent to you?
I’m definitely not British, and the older I get the more Kiwi I feel, but I love the British countryside. I love the seasonal produce, the strictness of the seasons. It’s not so clearly defined in New Zealand. I mean, for example, game season and birds here – Britain is very rich in the food that’s available, it’s incredible.
Stay subscribed to the Sekford Journal for monthly insights into Sekford and the friends, ideas, places and craftspeople that have shaped it.