Words: Margot Henderson  Top Image: Joe Woodhouse

Margot Henderson is a chef and food writer. Born in New Zealand, she ran the French House Dining Room in Soho before starting her own restaurant and catering company The Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch, east London, with Melanie Arnold. Margot is married to Fergus Henderson, founder of St John. They have three children, Hector, 20, Owen 18, and Frances, 15, and live in London.

As a child growing up in New Zealand, I loved my mother’s brown bread, which she made every week, along with her own yoghurt. We had no white sugar in our house. It was cider vinegar and honey when I came home from school, bran biscuits and things like that. My mother made big crazy salads which I didn’t like so much, with everything in them: fruit, cabbage, nettles.

We always sat at the table, eating was a great event in our house. A good table full of lots of people talking and eating was a very happy place.

Traditional family food in our family is roast chicken, mashed potatoes, lentils, braised fennel, sausages and tomato pasta.

Our children are all now teenagers. When they were babies we got on with it a lot more, people today are obsessed with what kids eat and how and when. I breastfed them all for a year and kept them vegetarian for a couple of years because it seemed like nicer poo that way. Then I made them all mushes. They never had bottles, I just gave them water in a cup because I couldn’t bare all that sterilising, it seemed such a bore. I was never too clean obsessed.

They went to lots of restaurants when they were little so they had quite a varied diet. They were brilliant at eating langoustines – peeling and sucking their heads from a very young age. They were also pretty good at veg – but also sometimes bad. With small children you can give them quite sour things and they like them, so I did that and tried to keep them off sugar for a bit. I’m also a bit of a feeder so if were unhappy I would feed them, which probably isn’t too great.

When they were growing up, they would eat early and then Fergus and I would eat, having that time to ourselves. I always found that a bit of struggle – cooking for them then cleaning up then cooking for us. But in the week Fergus did a lot of our grown-up meals.

Traditional family food in our family is roast chicken, mashed potatoes, lentils, braised fennel, sausages and tomato pasta. Tomato pasta has probably made up a lot of their diet over the years. I’m also very good at cooking them vietnamese omelettes, which they all love. For special occasion we always have langoustines, sirloin and potato dauphinois. We lived near China Town in London when the kids were growing up so we also ate a lot of dumplings together.

Recipe: Roast Quails
Kids love them. They like the little legs they can suck on, the smallness of it all. They’re also straightforward to cook and grown-ups love them too.


2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 quails
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
50ml chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 for a fan oven). Heat a little oil in a pan and carefully brown the breasts of each bird. Once they have a good colour, transfer them to a roasting tray, season them with salt and pepper, and add the chicken stock. Cook in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until lovely and brown.


‘You’re All Invited’ by Margot Henderson is published by Fig Tree, £25

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