A $65 mushroom, the perfect asparagus, and a hunt for elusive chervil: Shopping the Union Square Farmers Market with the remarkable London chef Margot Henderson.
Margot Henderson was causing a minor sensation as she walked around the Union Square Farmers Market one Wednesday morning. "She's that chef from London, right?" said a guy behind a vegetable-laden table on the market's east side. For most of the USFM purveyors, a chef rolling by is unremarkable. But Henderson is the chef/owner of the beloved Roschelle Canteen in London, where simply prepared, gorgeous food rules, and she has a loyal following. (So does her husband Fergus Henderson, who presides over another London fixture, St. John's restaurant.)
Henderson was in town to cook for two nights at the Four Horsemen, the outstanding Brooklyn wine bar. It's the first in their dinner series, unofficially named 'Restaurants that Inspire Us.' "Roschelle Canteen was one of our motivations to open Four Horsemen," says co-owner Christina Topsøe, noting that Henderson was a guest at her wedding (to LCD's James Murphy). Meanwhile, Henderson, wearing a blue windbreaker and carrying a St. Johns tote bag (did that tip off the farmer who recognized her?) had her eyes open for chervil. It was key to a sauté she was planning for dinner—kohlrabi, radish & chervil—but it was in short supply at the market that morning. Then she got distracted by some bright green asparagus. "When did you pick this?" she asked the woman at the Cherry Lane Farm stand. "Yesterday," came the answer. "I don't need any but I'll take some," said Henderson.
"This is the best market in the world," said Henderson, a few stalls later. "People say that California's are best, but I don't think so." She stopped at Windfall Farms, known for its gorgeous and pricey greens. "Some things are worth the money," said Henderson, about the $6 per quarter pound of mixed lettuces (though she didn't buy any). A basket of Windfall's supersized, vibrant morels caught her eye. "We get nice morels in London but I've never seen anything like this in my life." She picked up a particularly nice one and put it on the scale. And then put it back. "What, $65??" she exclaimed. Cue the does-that-morel-think-it's-a-truffle? jokes. Then Henderson went back to her chervil hunt. She thought she spotted it. "No, that's just sage. Boring." Would pots of little chervil plants work? No. So Henderson and Topsøe went off to Whole Foods.
That night, the Four Horsemen menu was amended to read The Fifth Horseman. Henderson's array of dishes included some of that asparagus, drizzled with hollandaise that was so thick it poured in slow motion, and thick slices of toast, soaked with beef drippings and topped with mince (ground beef). It was a highlight, as was the creamy polenta, smothered with sautéed leeks and morels. "I didn't need that $65 morel," said Henderson, and I totally agreed with her.