The Inventory: Fergus Henderson

‘I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. It’s slightly cringey how much fun I have’

Fergus Henderson, 48, opened the St. John Bar and Restaurant in 1994 and won his first Michelin star in 2009. He is the author of Nose To Tail Eating and its companion volume, Beyond Nose To Tail.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a farmer. That plan was shelved quite early on.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

King Alfred’s [an independent school] in Golders Green. It was a cosy place, but I never really enjoyed any schooling. I then trained for seven years at the Architectural Association.

Who was your mentor?

Charles Campbell, who I met in my twenties and cooked with at a nightclub in Notting Hill called The Globe. I remember him sitting in the corner, making terrines and drinking vodka. He was a lovely chap.

How physically fit are you?

Not very, because of Parkinson’s, but I feel as strong as an ox. I had this fantastic operation that changed my life; they put wires into my brain. Since then I’ve never looked back.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Ambition drives you on, ability certainly helps, but the fickle finger of fate and luck are great things.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Not that I know of.

How politically committed are you?

I’m a big believer that we get the politicians we deserve. I’m sure there are some good ones out there …

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I do. Eating the whole beast, nose to tail, makes sense. The sustainability of fish is a big concern. It’s very hard for restaurants to stop selling fish, but maybe we should. I fly too much, but a few gins help dissolve the carbon footprint anxiety. Hopefully our spiritual carbon footprint is healthy.

Do you have more than one home?

No.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

We live in a flat; my wife would be happy if we had a house with stairs. Or a little cottage in the country.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Eating and drinking.

In what place are you happiest?

Tiree, the Inner Hebrides. Life is so gentle there, the food is delicious, there are no midges. But I should mention that it can rain for months.

What ambitions do you still have?

I’ve got one more book in me – not cookery, but fiction. I’m going to illustrate it, too. As for other ambitions, again it’s the finger of fate. Life is like pinball – boing, boing, boing.

What drives you on?

Oomph.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

My three kids and three restaurants.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

The day the doctor said, “You’re a classic case of early-onset Parkinson’s.” But I went and had a very good lunch and felt better.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

It’s a terrifying thought. The poor thing would be so shocked.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d go and have lunch – that soothes everything – and think about how to readdress things. It would be a bit of a bugger.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes. I wouldn’t want to be vegetating and a burden.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

No. I might come back as a cow.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

9.5. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop every day. It’s slightly cringey how much fun I have.

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