Perhaps no one in modern culinary history has popularized the use of the whole animal as much as British chef Fergus Henderson. Henderson, the legendary chef of the St. John restaurant group, pioneered the modern culinary “nose-to-tail” movement, in which every part of the animal is appreciated and used. Henderson is an icon of the food world — he’s idolized by chefs including David Chang and Mario Batali — and Anthony Bourdain has proclaimed Henderson’s roast bone marrow and parsley salad his “death row meal.”
Henderson will be in Los Angeles for the next few days as part of the Los Angeles Times month-long Food Bowl festival. He recently visited The Times’ Test Kitchen with St. John head chef Jonathan Woolway to demonstrate Ferguson’s classic deviled kidney dish. I chatted with Ferguson about his favorite meal of the day, his culinary inspirations, and how to properly pour a Black Velvet cocktail. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the nose-to-tail movement is and why is it so important?
It’s common sense. That may sound rather dull, but it makes more sense to eat the whole animal. And it’s polite. We think that this is an evolved idea — that it’s new — but we’ve done it in the past. The idea kind of got lost with the evolution of the way we get our food, and supermarkets and such. But it really seems an obvious thing to do.
You’re known for featuring a lot of the lesser known parts of the animal on the menu at St. John. Are people more comfortable ordering those kinds of dishes now?
There’s still an element of “who can have the scariest thing on the menu” to it. But that’s a bad way of looking at it. We love animals, but we also love eating. Take kidneys. The texture of kidneys when you bite into them is they sort of squeak and give when you eat them. Or tripe. It strokes you on the inside as it goes down, and uplifts you at the same time. Nothing does that quite like tripe.
Do you have a favorite part of the animal?
Pig’s trotters. Pig’s head. I love pig’s extremities. Pig’s tails — they have this sort of lip-sticking loveliness.
Anything that you’re not big on?
Penis. And lung. Lung is strange and sort of spongy.
21 pig dishes featured in Henderson’s “The Complete Nose to Tail” cookbook:
Confit pig’s cheek and dandelion
Pig’s cheek and tongue
Roast pork loin, turnips, garlic and anchovies
Beans and bacon
Sorrel, chicory and crispy ear salad
Boiled ham and parsley sauce
Pig’s head and potato pie
Pork scratchings, a version of
Pot-roast half pig’s head
Pig’s trotter stuffed with potato
Salted back fat and wet walnuts
Dried salted pig’s liver, radishes and boiled eggs
Rolled pig’s spleen
Pig’s head and brains
Bacon knuckle and pickled cabbage
Brined pork belly, roasted
Ham in hay
Pressed pig’s ear
Crispy pig’s tails
Blood cake and fried eggs
Roast whole suckling pig
The kidney dish you’re making today is a favorite of yours, to have as a birthday breakfast.
It is. And it goes so well with the Black Velvet [a cocktail that combines Champagne and stout]. The trick to making the drink is to pour the Champagne in a separate jug before you pour it into the glass — that way you don’t have to worry about the bubbles. Same with the stout. [Note: We tested this in the Test Kitchen. It works beautifully.]
I’ve read that when it comes to meals, you’re a much bigger fan of lunch than dinner.
I’m a big fan of lunch. Dinner is sort of the punctuation to the end of the day. But lunch has potential. You still have the whole day ahead of you.
You’re largely self-taught. Are there any cookbooks or chefs that you take inspiration from?
Paula Wolfert. And Marcella Hazan — eventually I got to meet her. I went to Hazan’s house in Florida, and she cooked for me. She was so friendly. It’s not often you get to meet a real hero. It was a lovely moment.