Photoessay: portrait of a chef – Fergus Henderson

Perhaps best known for his use of offal, bones, tails and other normally discarded parts of the animal, chef Fergus Henderson is one of the innovators of modern cuisine. His dishes are derivatives of traditional British food, usually paired with French wines. However, perhaps the most impressive thing about him is that he’s actually an excellent trained architect (from no other institution than the AA) but one day decided he preferred food – and despite being awarded a Michelin star for St. John restaurant in 2009, he was entirely self taught as a chef and has never worked in anybody else’s kitchen.

Henderson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1996, and has since undergone deep brain stimulation therapy which supposedly has increased his mobility in the kitchen – however, watching him work it’s clear that he wields most implements with difficulty (and in some cases, it’s just too dangerous) and relies on his deputy. However, when you talk to him, it’s clear that his disability has not diminished his ability, talent or passion for food – if anything, it’s enhanced it. He’s an animated, engaging speaker with a dry sense of humor and a disarming smile. I had the honor of running a food photography class with him once; it remains one of the most inspiring experiences of my photographic career to date.

All I can say is that I have enormous respect for the man, and his bone marrow and parsley salad (which he describes in strangely architectural terms) was quite excellent, too. MT

This series shot with a Leica M9-P, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE and Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium.

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Comments

  1. Ming, Great coverage. Being an ex-chef and an enophile, hailing originally from NYC I share with you a love of gastronomy and all things culinary. That’s gotta be very tough having Parkinson’s. I can’t ever begin to imagine the toll its taken on him. Bone marrow is the Foie Gras of what may otherwise be commonly an overlooked by product after butchery typically used for stock. French cuisine makes eloquent use from animal parts that may otherwise be discarded. Delicacies such a bones marrow are relatively inexpensive in their raw state. When prepared by deftly skilled chefs the marrow morphs into a rich, earthy and creamy delicacy. Our last run in with marrow was served in the split bones with crouton, confit of garlic and fresh parsley wich compliments and cuts the rich fatty quality of the marrow. Ming, I’m wondering, what is your tie in with the food industry, do you simply approach chefs or restaurants and ask to shoot?

    • Thanks Marc. I’m just amazed that he still continues to do what he does despite the challenges he faces. Hats off to him.

      And the trouble with marrow is that it’s rather tough to cook well.

      I don’t have any tie in with the industry beyond as you say, approaching and offering my services.

      By the way, if you haven’t checked out Modernist Cuisine – for both insights and photography – I highly recommend you do so…

  2. Steve King says:

    St John Restaurant! Love that place.

  3. Love all of the gesture you captured in this group!
    Ps: someday would love it if you were to make a quick tutorial of how you imput your name into your image frame- looks so sharp!

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