Fergus Henderson Talks Restaurant Design

Just like Fergus Henderson and his crew at St. John re-imagined the idea of what we want to eat, taking diners to unexpected places and cuts of meat, there is also a departure from what we we expect from a restaurant when dining out. There is nothing overwrought or over designed or over-the-top at St. John, it's a quiet, plain space that whispers at you, and doesn't beat you over the head with design elements meant to dazzle and distract your senses from what's on your plate. If anything the spareness of the dining room and the more casual bakery and cafe space bring your plate into sharp focus.

Part 1: Fergus Henderson: All About Pig Parts

As a trained architect, how has that influenced your kitchen design? What do you consider ideal components of an ideal kitchen?

Create the kitchen you can out of adversity or whatever, and make it work as well as you can. I'm sure there is a perfect kitchen somewhere.

Anything you would recommend for the sake of efficiency?

Not too much space. It's always better to have everything within an arm's reach. You'll see our kitchen up here, it's tiny for what we produce. It can be too small, but it should be cozy.

Do you ever regret giving it up as a profession/vocation?

Ummm, nope. I had a job at an architecture firm. At lunchtime, everyone had their sandwich and their can of Coke and sat at their drawing board. It's a creative profession, and that's not going to help you be creative. I realized I was more interested in lunch than the drawing board. And also I've got the best of both worlds: I feed people in a space I created.

Your aesthetic seems to involve as little fuss as possible, very much like your food, St John the space itself has very clean and utilitarian lines. Can you tell me a little about you came to be so "unfussy"? It's not very English!

I think of St. John as not having those gastronomic crutches, like music, brass rails, marble and low voltage lighting, all these things that reassure the public that they are going out and having a good time. My belief is that happy diners are all the decoration you need, and an enthusiastic consumption of food and wine will make all the music you require. So the diner is our decoration, and the restaurant is a backdrop for the chaos of service. Then everything returns to calm, and at 6 o'clock it all happens again. There is a great sense of place in restaurants.