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The Seasons Write The Menu With Margot Henderson

by Margot Henderson

New Zealand born, Margot Henderson OBE is a chef, restaurateur, and cookery writer based in the UK. Margot is the co-founder of the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch, London which boasts a daily changing menu that remains close to the seasons.  Delivered with energy and love of good ingredients and support for local farming, produce-led cooking and best in quality is at the heart of Rochelle Canteen, with vegetables sourced from a farm in Shropshire; meat from small original breed farms and fish caught from cold water British waters on small day boats.
As the new year rolls, we are often filled with thoughts of new beginnings and how our lives may change for the better. We need new incentives to help us live better, healthier and happier lives. For me, the joys of life are most often found in good meal, where the food nurtures us from inside out, but the most important ingredients are friends and family. It’s all about sitting down at the table and sharing a meal together.

Cooking well is generally down to sourcing good ingredients from local suppliers, although sometimes I do buy ingredients from Italy as I just can’t live without them. Food that is in season and well sourced is naturally good for you, that is why I find letting the season write the menu one of the great joys of life. Coming out of Christmas, it is wonderful to make more soothing food, made from all that is leftover. In these short, dark days of January it’s all about root vegetables, that are so sweet and delicious, broths, slow cooking, risottos and pulses - food that will restore our body and soul.

Stocks and broths are so effortless, yet the flavours they bring to your dish can be the turning point of making something great. I recently discovered the joys of kombu stocks: kombu, a flat large seaweed, can be simmered in water for about 40 minutes or soaked overnight to bring body to vegetable-based dishes. Roast some large chunks of celeriac, turnip and swede so they are cooked but still hold their shape with integrity. Then add some kombu broth, cooked lentils and finish with some chard leaves and a teaspoon of miso to create a vegetable stew fit for kings.

Artisanal ceramics by Cisco & The Sun

Pulses, like the dear lentil, are the jewels of cooking. They can add so much but you mustn’t overdo it! Some pulses, such as chickpeas and beans, love to soak in lots of water… Don’t be mean on the soaking time. They they just need to gently cook away, being careful not to undercook them. Adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to chickpeas will make them dance away in the pot. They pair beautifully with oil, lemon and roast pumpkin. For ease, you can also buy very good jars of pre-cooked chickpeas - I would recommend Brindisa!

For those of you who eat meat, it is important not to let anything go to waste and make the most out of any nutrients - this is the time for slow braises and poaching. A poached chicken with leeks and celeriac, has real depth - it is not only simple to cook, but it can also become a broth, or stock used to make a hearty risotto. Celeriac has to be one of the greatest winter vegetables of all time, it’s flavoursome and holds its own in taste and structure. It’s great baked and raw, in a remoulade or added to stocks, soups and stews.

Citrus porcelain dinner plate by Fern&Co.

January is a fantastic time for ‘wet food’ and yet there is rarely enough of it. The Japanese understand the joys of ‘wet food’, such as restorative broths and noodles. These ponds of goodness, made from garlic, shallots, a bundle of herbs and some stock or water, pair perfectly with gently cooked meats. A shoulder of lamb can nestle into the liquid, before being placed in the oven to cook low and slow. We can then go about our lives, whether that be going on a walk, working or reading, before returning to a delicious meal. 

Ceramic cat spoons by Hannah Turner

Many of us are desperately looking to spring, waiting for all that fresh new goodness. It’s a time for broad beans, peas, young turnips, young potatoes and of course, asparagus. Oh the delights of asparagus! I love that moment they come flying in, in full glory - grilled, blanched, happy with butter sauces, parmesan or eggs. Such a fleeting joy and then they are gone, a great British moment from the end of May to early June. I have a wonderful woman who sends me boxes of her St Endoc asparagus, freshly picked the night before, that's so fresh it’s good raw. And then in the summer months where we want everything cold with crunch: tomato, cucumber and feta - what a joy!