by Rebecca LeHeup for the Terroir Hospitality Symposium

This article is part of a continuing series featuring the participants of the Terroir Hospitality Industry Symposium, March 1 at Hart House at The University of Toronto. Click here to reserve your tickets now.

On a recent trip to London, England I had the pleasure to call upon the 2011 Terroir Symposium  keynote presenter, Chef Fergus Henderson. It seemed only fitting that Chef Henderson, founder of St. John Restaurant and author of the hugley influential Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking would be a part of this year’s event as the theme is “Traditions and Techniques”.

From our West End hotel, my companion Andrew and I made our way on foot  to St. John, located a few yards from the great Smithfield meat market of London. Passing by the butchers preparing for market I noted that the area had a feeling of desertion. It was 11 o’clock on a Monday morning. Crisp and cool outside, my senses were instantly peaked once inside the re-purposed smokehouse. The restaurant space was flooded with warm natural light from the glass roof, the aromas of bread fresh out of the oven embraced us and hustle of the staff, focused on the task of preparing to open within the hour, created an electric energy.

Fergus was quick to appear, and we made our way through the heart of the restaurant to a private dining area in the hopes that the quieter space where we could talk uninterrupted. I was thrilled to hear that chef’s upcoming travels to Toronto for the Terroir Symposium would be his inaugural visit to Canada. I was equally happy that he had carved out some time for me in his busy schedule as he is slated to open a 15-room boutique hotel (with a restaurant) later this month!

I explained that I was there to capture a “taste” of what attendees to the symposium may expect from his presentation and with that we launched into the interview. When asked about his “traditions and techniques” Chef Henderson was quick to reply that he was not a big believer in trends and rather a follower of traditions and a firm supporter of terroir. Chef Henderson is known for speaking his mind but on this day he not reveal the full details of his Terroir Symposium presentation, ‘The Pleasure of Dining – A Discussion’. He did indicate he was looking forward to participating in the symposium’s day of break-out sessions and programming and meeting chefs and restaurateurs from Toronto and Southern Ontario.

When I made a comment about Smithfield Market, Fergus noted that it was not as it had once been, and he was concerned that butchers of the like would disappear as many were getting their meat from the grocery stores and distributors (all of their butchery is done in-house). We talked about the perilous state of food in the world – it was a conversation that could have gone on for hours but I was conscious that he had to get on with his day.

Intrigued by what his expectations of food in Canada were I asked him what he expected to find on the menus of Toronto restaurants – “Elk Pie!” was his simple response.

When the interview was over, my companion and I made our way back to the bar where Fergus treated us to several glasses of Champagne while we waited for our lunch reservation. Chef Henderson can typically be found at the restaurant each day before opening going over the day’s menu with his head chef Chris Gillard, this day was no exception so we took the opportunity to ask him for his recommendations. When we noted that the space was lacking in music and artwork Fergus replied, “The food is the artwork and the music is the sound of the people enjoying the food, the knives and forks, the music of pleasure”.

On that note, we took chefs menu suggestions, Native oysters and roasted bone marrow and parsley salad, simply delicious.

Act now: registration of Chef Fergus Henderson’s March 1 appearance at the 2011 Terroir Symposium is limited. Click here to ensure your attendance.

Rebecca LeHeup is the Executive Director of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and member of the Terroir Symposium Steering Committee. Follow her on Twitter at @OntarioCulinary.