Fergus Henderson, the Nose to Tail king, returns

Fergus Henderson, author of <i>Nose to Tail Eating</i>, arrives in Melbourne next week.
Fergus Henderson, author of Nose to Tail Eating, arrives in Melbourne next week. Photo: Patricia Niven

You've seen the dish a thousand times: a length of roasted bone marrow served with toasts and parsley salad. Point of origin: Fergus Henderson.

In 1999 the Brit chef wrote the now cult book Nose to Tail Eating: a Kind of British Cooking. With it, he turned a spotlight back onto the unsung heroes of the meat world at a time when the obsession was for the lean, perky fillets.

The book and its sequel (Beyond Nose to Tail, which was combined with the very first version of the book in 2012 as The Complete Nose to Tail) is an ode to pickled tongue and the joys of sweetbreads. If you care about food, a copy probably sits on your shelf with Marco Pierre White's White Heat, Anthony Bourdain​'s Kitchen Confidential and Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion.

Matt Wilkinson, the chef and owner of Pope Joan, ranks Henderson as one of the great game changers of his career, along with Alice Waters, Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller. "What Fergus did was re-humanise cooking. The way he looked at things and even the pictures in his books [black and white shots of feasting hands – now republished in The Complete Nose to Tail] were ground breaking."

Henderson didn't invent nose to tail philosophy, but his words rippled through the culinary world like no others.

Henderson arrives in Melbourne next week for Good Food Month. And more than a decade on from his rise to fame, his legacy has never been more evident or important.

Every steakhouse worth its salt is serving formerly unloved flatiron and hangar steaks. Ox tongue is on every wine bar menu. Sweetbread prices are through the roof.

"It's a godsend that Fergus is arriving now to remind us how to use lesser known cuts," says Richard Cornish, whose new book My Year Without Meat takes an outside view of the industry. "Meat consumption is too high. Many butchers are struggling and giving up market share to supermarkets, but those who care are passionate."

On the flip side, one of the biggest food trends of 2016 has been the rise of the boutique butcher.

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Andrew McConnell, the chef-restaurateur behind Supernormal and Cutler and Co, recently launched Meatsmith, servicing his own venues, other restaurants and the public with ethically raised meat. It joins Skinner and Hackett in Carlton, Victor Churchill in Sydney and in LA, Gwen (the butcher-shop-cum-restaurant by sandy haired celebrity chef Curtis Stone) in flying the flag for the ethical products and under-loved cuts.

Stone says of the format "we're closing the loop on wastage by cooking everything the shop customers tend to shy away from. That in turn advertises how good those lesser known cuts can be."

Nothing speaks more clearly of Henderson's philosophy. Sinew and bone more than ever are having their day in the sun. Come and give thanks to the man who started it all. 

Fergus Henderson is in town for Good Food Month. Buy tickets to a Sunday picnic at French Saloon on November 27th featuring great British dishes from Henderson and Matt Wilkinson at goodfoodmonth.com/melbourne