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The Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award 2014

Fergus Henderson, St John, London, UK

The son of architect parents, and a one-time student in the subject himself, Fergus Henderson has arguably left a more indelible mark on London than if he’d been responsible for the design of one of the city’s skyscrapers or shopping malls. As the founding partner and chef of one of the UK’s most influential restaurants, Henderson has built his own monument – to a style of cooking that has impacted gastronomy in this country and beyond over the past couple of decades.

Today, the notion of nose-to-tail cooking – the use of every part of the animal – is well known and practised in many kitchens across the Western culinary landscape. But when Henderson opened St John in Smithfield in 1994 with long-term business partner Trevor Gulliver, it was an alien concept that flew in the face of the prime-cuts cooking of haute cuisine. Only through his unashamed celebration of offal and indigenous food, his pushing of the boundaries of acceptable restaurant cooking and an infectious passion for ingredients has the nose-to-tail approach become an intrinsic part of contemporary gastronomy. Now, quite rightly, it can be experienced everywhere from the informal café up to the top table.

Henderson’s legacy hasn’t been confined to the style of cooking he has championed, however. He is also one of the patriarchs of the UK restaurant industry (although he refers to himself more as playing the ‘mother hen’ role), which was recognised in 2005 when he received an MBE for services to gastronomy. Under him, great cheffing talent has been nurtured, with a number of his young protégés currently blooming in solo ventures. Throughout his 20 years at St John - and before that working in the dining room at The French House pub in Soho alongside his wife, Margot - he has formed strong alliances with chefs across the world. In the process, he has done more to raise the profile of British food overseas than any other chef in recent history.

Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the late nineties, Henderson has proved that major obstacles can be overcome. His affable and intelligent manner, meanwhile, have also made him one of the most popular chefs in living memory. When asked what his cooking legacy would be, Henderson says: “Good lunches with good company.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Photography by John Carey

"The architect of nose-to-tail dining"

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