Margot Henderson in the new branch of her restaurant Rochelle Canteen at The ICA. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Get To Know Rochelle Canteen Co-Owner & Chef Margot Henderson

The celebrated New Zealand-born chef has carved out an incredible career in London

Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold opened The Rochelle Canteen in 2004 and ever since it has been a much-loved, fashion insider’s dining spot. The Shoreditch institution expanded last year and now has a branch at art institution The ICA. Margot is married to fellow chef Fergus Henderson and they are a vital part of London’s creative community, heavily involved with food, drink, fashion, art and parties.

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When did you first come to London and what made you move here?
About 32 years ago. I was 19 or 20 and I was going on my OE to see Big Ben. I was having a romance as well with an English person so I came out for both reasons, travel and love.

A dish of monk's beard from Rochelle Canteen. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

What was it like for you building your career here in the early days?
First of all, I was just working in restaurants and I enjoyed it, then I decided in 1990 that my New Year resolution was that I was going to take it seriously and I was going to push myself forward. I was offered a head chef job and I thought,“Oh my god, I suppose I better do it because I’ve done this New Year resolution.” I didn’t know what I was doing and I learned a lot very quickly, there’s nothing like learning on the job.

How did Rochelle Canteen happen?
It was through a friend, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. My business partner Melanie Arnold and I were cooking from my flat in Covent Garden for our catering company. It was taking a toll on the flat, it’s hard on the sinks and there was a wooden bench that was dissolving away.

The interior of Rochelle Canteen in The ICA, central London. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

James Moores is a great friend and he said, “I’ve just bought this school”, so we moved into each little classroom and we had a stainless steel bench, a fridge and an oven. It worked well and James said, “Oh I’m doing up the bike sheds, I’d love it if you guys did a restaurant”. It worked out well because we both had children and our income was coming from the catering.

What’s it like being married to another chef?
Day to day we eat good food; we have a bit of a problem with restaurants. We’re restaurant obsessed, we spend way too much money on restaurants. My favourite restaurant is our local, The Canton Arms in Stockwell, it’s a great place to go with family.

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Margot’s Northern Hemisphere Summer picks:

  • Tiree. Fergus and I go to Tiree every year for our holidays, a little island in the outermost Inner Hebrides. When the sun shines it is a very beautiful spot but it does rain a lot and that keeps the riff-raff away. Long, white, sandy beaches with no one on them, we eat lobster and crab non-stop.
  • Ciao Bella, London. Sit outside, I always have the Spaghetti Vongole. You are in London but feels like you are on holiday in Italy.
  • St James’s Park. My favourite park in London to walk and then relax in a deck chair, then you can pop into The ICA for lunch and a glass of Champagne.
  • Hydra. I went there once and it was amazing — I wish I could go back.
  • Mallorca. Get in a boat and head to Sa Foradada, a restaurant in the hills that you can only get to by boat. Heaven all round, fish grilled on coals outside.
  • Petone Beach. The cafe in the rowing club fills me with all the joys of New Zealand. Great coffee fantastic breakfast. Wellington in a nutshell.
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