Jonathan Jones St John in­stilled a love for nu­anced, yet un­fussy food that the An­chor & Hope chef cleaves to still

The Guardian - Cook - - Feature - Jonathan Jones is chef-pro­pri­etor of the An­chor & Hope in Lon­don’s Water­loo; @an­chorhope­cut

Ev­ery­thing was de­li­cious, gen­er­ous and homely. Ex­actly what I aim for 20 years later

My first en­counter with St John was in 1994. I had a star­tling din­ner there: skate, chicory and an­chovy, fol­lowed by smoked eel, bacon and mash. I left des­per­ate to work there: Fer­gus Hen­der­son was cook­ing orig­i­nal, de­li­cious food and was some­one I felt good be­ing around.

So in 1995 I ar­rived, a rel­a­tively sea­soned chef. I loved it from the start and soon found my­self open­ing na­tive oys­ters – clum­sily – while Fer­gus stood along­side, smil­ing re­as­sur­ingly. He would al­ways give gen­tle in­struc­tion and cor­rec­tive guid­ance to his “flock” of cooks.

St John was civilised. As staff we felt ap­pre­ci­ated, re­flected in a team that was ded­i­cated, happy and proud to work there. We’d be given a sit­down meal both in the morn­ing and af­ter­noon, which was un­usual at the time. Fer­gus might even fur­nish us with the odd “steady­ing glass” if he felt it might ben­e­fit.

He wasn’t so re­laxed that things went awry, though. He ate at St John most days and if some­thing was amiss, you would be qui­etly told. It cer­tainly beat be­ing be­rated by an over­heat­ing thug. Fer­gus is not only a mas­sive in­flu­ence how I cook, but on how I treat my team at the An­chor and Hope.

To think Fer­gus’s cook­ing is just about sim­plic­ity is de­cep­tive. It has nu­ance, thought and un­der­stand­ing, and the pro­duce was beau­ti­ful: He­bridean lambs, Ayles­bury dry-plucked ducks, live Dorset lan­goustines and crabs. Sea­sonal treats that I’d only read about – wild sea kale or gulls’ eggs – all a plea­sure to pre­pare and cook, fa­mously us­ing, with equal rev­er­ence, each part of the an­i­mal.

Fer­gus’s food is deemed Bri­tish by some peo­ple, and the pro­duce al­most ex­clu­sively is. But, ac­tu­ally, the cook­ing has a con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean sen­si­bil­ity: artichoke and vinai­grette, pork chop and prunes, roast pi­geon and peas, or kohlrabi salad.

I al­ways loved how un-restau­ranty his fare was – no dull fil­let-and-pureeplus-re­duc­tion, so preva­lent at the time. It was real cook­ing. Boiled belly and lentils; roast grouse; whole brill served on green and white veg­eta­bles for five or six; pheas­ant pies that served four, not one – be­cause that way you get the best ra­tio of fill­ing to pas­try. Ev­ery­thing was de­li­cious, gen­er­ous and homely. Ex­actly what I aim for now, 20 years later.

To show it’s not all meat and of­fal at St John, here is some­thing that we still serve that I learned from Fer­gus. It opened my eyes to what a restau­rant could do.

Raw and cooked veg­eta­bles with an­chovy dress­ing (an­choiade)

As much an as­sem­bly as a recipe – and only worth mak­ing to eat with re­ally fresh veg­eta­bles. This makes a good sum­mer lunch with some bread and wine, even bet­ter with a 7-hour lamb shoul­der to fol­low. The an­choiade recipe is a St John one that I have em­bel­lished a lit­tle.

For the dress­ing

7 gar­lic cloves, peeled A pinch of black pep­per 1 tin of an­chovies in oil 285ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil A splash of red wine vine­gar 1 diced long red chilli

1 tsp thyme leaves

A hand­ful of basil leaves

For the veg­eta­bles

What­ever veg looks lovely – radishes, peas in their pods, car­rots, lit­tle gem let­tuce, spring onions, fen­nel, chicory, beets, broc­coli, cau­li­flower, to­ma­toes, broad beans, cu­cum­ber ...

1 First make the dress­ing. Put the gar­lic and pep­per into a food pro­ces­sor or mor­tar and crush to a fine puree, then add the an­chovies and al­low them to break down. Start to add the oil, then the vine­gar to taste – check the flavour for sea­son­ing. You will be left with a thick emul­sion. Then fold in the chilli and herbs.

2 Per­haps with the ex­cep­tion of the beet­root, you can choose to cook or serve your veg raw as you like. If you are cook­ing, say, your car­rots or broc­coli, do so in boil­ing salted wa­ter un­til only just ten­der. Trim, wash well and dry your veg.

3 As­sem­ble in a pleas­ing way. Dip and crunch.

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