Fergus Henderson featured at Terroir Symposium, says offal isn't "scary"

March 2, 2011

Saying food should always have a little bit of a "nyah" to it, U.K. chef Fergus Henderson concluded the 5th Annual Terroir Symposium in Toronto with a keynote speech covering a number of topics, including this bit of wisdom, when it comes to serving food. The godfather of the offal movement - and author of nearly every chef's must-read these days, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating - Henderson talked about one of the seminal dishes at his restaurant, St. John, which has informed much of his cooking: roasted bone marrow with parsley salad. "It's fine, except that it needed some nyah, and the capers in the salad provided that," Henderson told a packed room at the University of Toronto's Hart House, which looked like Harry Potter's dining room at Hogwarts:

 

Riffing on the meaning of organics vs. supermarket food and the propensity of chefs to serve him offal at every occasion, no matter if it was properly thought-out ahead of time or not ("cooked lamb's brain is delicious; raw, not as much"), Henderson spoke lovingly about nearly every bit of the animal, while his partner, Trevor Gulliver, looked on. Gulliver would later tell the audience that the St. John Hotel is about two months away from being completed in London. "There's no PR for the spleen [unlike its popular relative, the filet] but it's still delicious; it's got so much white fat, and the kidney..." Henderson would trail off as another thought would pop into his head, "..ah the face, it has that beautiful contrast of jello, then crunchy cartilage; soft jello, then crunchy cartilage...I would talk about the cheeks, but I see that all of you nodding in agreement makes me realize you understand how good it is already." The audience - a mix of chefs, farmers and restaurateurs, as well as PR folks and media - is mainly Toronto or Ontario-based. I was there speaking about social media, along with a colleague from the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Here was our audience:

Excellent seminars on rieslings, professional branding and steak dominated the day, but Henderson's speech seemed to be the one most attendees were waiting for. The night before, a fundraiser party was held at Parts & Labour in Toronto, with a cook-off between a few local chefs. As always, the best action was back in the kitchen, where I was able to poach a few items on their way out to the dining room:



It was certainly an educational day, and I kept thinking about Henderson's vision of simplicity, using every bit of the animal, and encouraging chefs to cook what they love, not concerning themselves with "scaring" people on the menu. That, and of course, not forgetting to add a little bit of nyah.