Margot Henderson is one of London’s most influential chefs: She turned an old-school bike shed in Shoreditch into Rochelle Canteen, a beloved restaurant that offers a twist on classic British fare.
As a child, the first recipe Henderson made was a ginger crunch from New Zealand's classic Edmonds Cookery Book—she would later cook garden snails with breadcrumbs for her parents' dinner parties. She moved to the United Kingdom aged 20. She dropped out of an English degree at university and worked at a Mexican cantina to save money to come to London, having fallen in love and being obsessed by The Face magazine. Henderson split her work life between England and Australia for a few years, working with the Australian chef Stephanie Alexander. Henderson has worked at several notable restaurants in London; her career was described by journalist Rachel Cooke as "a CV that pretty much tells the story of all that was hip and delicious in 90s London". Initially working at the Notting Hill establishments 192 and First Floor, she later moved to the Quality Chop House in Farringdon and The Eagle gastropub in Clerkenwell.
At a Sunday lunch at The Eagle she met fellow chef Fergus Henderson. Fergus proposed to Margot at the City of London seafood restaurant Sweetings; the couple made a cassoulet for 300 people to eat at their wedding. The couple have three children. Fergus and Margot opened the French House Dining Room at Soho's French House in 1992, though Fergus would leave in 1994 to establish his St. John restaurant in Smithfield. Margot felt this led to "years of bitterness, which I might just be coming out of". Fergus was replaced as Margot's business partner by Melanie Arnold. The pair established the caterers Arnold & Henderson and founded the Rochelle Canteen in Clerkenwell in the early 2000s. The canteen also serves as a base for their catering company. The Rochelle Canteen is based in the former bicycle sheds of a Victorian school, which has been converted into artist's studios. The menu changes daily and serves seasonal British food. In an interview with Something Curated, Margot Henderson said, " All our seafood comes from British waters – we get our fish from Essex. They call up on the day that the boats come in and we get it that night and can serve it the next day."
Henderson published a cookery book, You're All Invited: Margot's Recipes for Entertaining, in 2012. She initially found it difficult to write but later felt that "I shouldn't have worried. I should have just done it. But I just kept putting it off, and then I would lose the thread." The book was later described by Cooke as not "desperately trying to take up a position. There are no earnest lectures about seasonality, no dreary outbreaks of solidarity with hard-pressed working women. Her introductions to each recipe are witty, but minimalist."
We are delighted to welcome Margot to Litfest for the first time this year.