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Now reading Working Mom: Margot Henderson

Working Mom: Margot Henderson

“I was a mother first, but I went to work every day.”

Margot Henderson is the chef of Rochelle Canteen, in London. She cooks the sort of seasonally-informed Mediterranean-influenced food that I would describe as “what I want to eat all the time.” She is a firebrand, a badass, a straight shooter, a wonderful person to share a glass of something with. Her husband is known for cooking with snouts and tails and writing cookbooks that make me weak in the knees. Together, the two of them have a family. I took Mom Month as an excuse to ask her about that. —Peter Meehan

You have three kids, right? All grown?

Twenty-one, nineteen, and fifteen. I’ve still got a child in school, not that I’m with her at the moment. I feel a bit bad, she’s doing her GCSE’s, her first serious exams, in Britain, and I’m doing a lot of traveling. I’m here in New York, just been to Venice, and I’m going to Moscow for a tasting next week.

Do you feel guilt about this? I have kids and wrestle with traveling… 

Yeah, masses. You know, if I work too much. Then I feel guilty if I’m not at work all the time and I’m looking after the kids. But I’m trying to relax now; I’m not getting so stressed about it.

The thing about cooking, or any job I suppose, is that you need to do it a lot to be good at it. You need to be doing it and doing it, and remembering all those little things. I don’t cook food that’s the same all the time anyway—it’s not precise at all. It’s more about feeling, about what ingredients I’m cooking with.

So I used to just think I was shit all the time. And now I just don’t worry about so much—I think I’ve gotten a bit more confident recently. But I definitely am cooking more. But it is hard with small children, to be working. And also, who would be a chef? It’s so hard. I would never recommend it. Don’t be a chef. It fucks your legs. The varicose veins!

How did it work for you, early on? Were you working when your kids were little?

I was a mother first, but I went to work every day. When they were little babies I had them tied on me; I’d go into the restaurant, check the fridge, and write the menu, and I’d be in there with the babies. And then they were toddlers—they grew up, you know, walking around the kitchen. So I think that’s one of the things I’d said when I’d interview people to work there, was, “You are going to have small children annoying you.” But they all loved that. That was at the French House Dining Room in Soho, above the French pub. The kids went to school in Soho. And Melanie, my partner, has three small children, and she lived in Soho too, so it was very local. And then, you know, I got child-minders.

But me and Fergus didn’t have any money. It wasn’t exactly a money-making restaurant. It basically cost me money to do a whole shift. When Fergus was opening St. John, being Mr. Glamour, he couldn’t really stay at home. I was, you know—his work came first, he made more money. Basically, it’s all about the money. And I wanted to be a mother, you know, I was obsessed with my children. I wanted to look after my children, even though it’s long and hard and boring at times!

Yeah it’s both of those things. Absolutely the biggest pleasure in the world and the thing that you care about more than anything in life, and then when you’re in the middle of it, you’re like, “Are we gonna read that book again?”

I wish now that I had worked a bit more.

Really?

Yeah.

Why?

I think that I would’ve—I just thought it was so important to be at home with my children where I think I could’ve done a bit more of a mix of it. Now looking back, I think maybe—I mean I’m not saying that—it just would’ve been better to carry on a bit more with being in the kitchen. Like, properly in the kitchen. Not just in the restaurant, managing, but actually cooking a bit more.

What do you think would have been different? 

I think I would have been better. I mean it was a shit kitchen, too, it was a really hard restaurant. So then you’re tired, ’cause you’re looking after the kids. So if you’re not also—the thing is your stamina isn’t so good, so you suffer more. I just think it’s about consistency. I mean cooking, doing service.

And how does it work with you and Fergus both being chefs? 

Well I would cook the kids’ food and he would come home and cook our food—he didn’t want to eat early, for some reason. I grew up in New Zealand, and we all ate early. I didn’t mind it. I quite like eating early. I mean children really, they take over your lives. We were very in it for a long time. I feel we’re just coming out of it. Our poor third child is having to bring herself up!

Do your kids cook? Did your mom?

My mother is a really nice cook, a bit of a hippie cook. But you know I had to cook if I wanted to eat something different. Whereas with our kids we’re always like, “Don’t do it like that, do it like this.” If they want to do something, you know, children don’t want someone telling them all the time a better way to do it. Yeah, I think sometimes we’ve stopped them cooking a bit because we’re always like, “There’s a better way,” or, “We can do it better.” So they end up like, “Ugh, fuck off.” Terrible parenting. But they’re cooking more and more. I think sometimes that I teach them a bit like I teach chefs. I say “do this and this and this” where I should really let them make mistakes, shouldn’t I? Make it really bad. And they’d know, because they know good food.

They like eating.

They know what good food tastes like. Fergus has taken them all to glamorous meals when they were really young—Francis went to Heston’s and she said, “Oh we’re getting more dishes than everyone else.” She noticed at twelve. And then she said: “I think I do prefer my foie gras roasted…” That was heaven for us.

So other than getting them VIP treatment from Heston Blumenthal, what else would you tell moms to do? Not that moms need anymore unasked-for advice in their lives…

Stop looking at your phone? Listen to your children, I suppose. Teach them cards!

Really? 

Yeah I love cards. I play canasta and five hundred. And dummies’ bridge. My kids like cards. Cards are good. It’s a good family pull-everyone-together activity. And it’s competitive. A bit of competition is good for the family, isn’t it?