We catch up with Henrietta Russell, head chef and owner of luxury catering company, Peapod and Co., who tells us of the time she cooked for the Queen, her biggest inspiration and her love of canapés.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
Like a lot of chefs my first role was at a local pub, working my summer holidays and weekends, fostering a work ethic that I’ve since become known for in the industry.
I realised I wanted to be a professional chef at the age of 16 – I’m lucky in that respect – and whilst my contemporaries all lined up to go to university at 18 waiting on news about that all important placement, I took off to Ireland attending the Ballymaloe cookery school.
It was at Ballymaloe that I learnt the core cooking skills, culinary techniques and the importance of cooking with the freshest, seasonal ingredients, all of which is grown and produced on their amazing farm. Ballymaloe, run and owned by the Allen family to this day, is a hugely inspirational environment and they instil in their graduates, not only knowledge but, a confidence in business.
My career has led me to work globally and to be privy to events and occasions that few get to glimpse. From my early years working in Verbier as a private chef, through to my role as chef de partie at Hotel Du Vin and latterly at Rhubarb and Rocket, where I was sous and head chef respectively, I really developed the artistry behind the food and I got to let my creativity go.
I’ve cooked for a cross section of people from private individuals, to those in pop culture and royalty and there’s nothing like knowing they’re enjoying your food. One of my highlights was cooking for the Queen during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.
I launched Peapod and Co. to set a new level for catering and experiences both in London and home the counties, we’re boutique in size but we’re about bringing the best to the table – the finest, freshest and seasonal ingredients, new ideas and creativity and above all a level of service that makes it a memorable experience for the client. The odd and, of course, long hours have been worth it, the variety to the job is never ending and I love the creative opportunity each event presents.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
A love for food, parties and the influence of my mother. Growing up, I used to watch her cooking in the kitchen and I think this is what first inspired me to become a chef.
My mother is a great cook which has no doubt influenced my cooking abilities and having four children she was experienced in catering mass meals! She too is a massive foodie and loves parties. In the nineties, she used to hold large charity balls in aid of Leuka which sparked my interest in the events world. I always thought how fun it would be to organise these and create the menus for large events.
I’ve always enjoyed gastronomy and took a fond interest in cooking at home, often helping with family suppers and my mother’s dinner parties We were very fortunate to have an Aga in our cottage kitchen which I suppose encouraged me to cook, with no gas its far safer to cook on.
I must have been seven or eight when I created my first dish, I cooked stuffed peppers with anchovies and herbs. Rather embarrassingly, my mother filmed me cooking on a now very vintage video camera, as I mimicked Delia Smith. It’s very funny and still makes my family and friends chuckle.
What’s your signature dish?
Beef fillet with artichoke puree, kale, crisp potato and Cafe de Paris butter. Plated on a contemporary large white plate.
What is your favourite cooking utensil?
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Firstly, seasonality and the source of ingredients, a Peapod and Co. dish is both taste and style orientated, but never compromised when it comes to ensuring it’s the freshest and sustainable.
Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?
Yes, I love colourful playful food and this is a strong trait in my menus. Striking food makes a dish more memorable and lifts moods.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
The summer season, being able to eat vegetables from the garden and pick edible flowers and herbs from the garden. It’s a playful season and I find the plates come to life with the abundance of produce available.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Shallots, they add depth of flavour and texture to any dish.
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
My childhood self when not cooking was playing tennis and a love of Wimbledon made me want to be a tennis player, but I think in truth I would have leaned towards a role as a personal assistant. I love being busy, am highly organised and enjoy meeting new people, it’s never fazed me.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Chanterelle mushrooms on toasted brioche, it’s so delicious and easy to prepare. I often cook this on a Sunday evening after a roast, wiping away any Sunday blues I may have.
When are you happiest?
With good company, good food and with my friends and family (not forgetting my darling Jack Russell). The sun is a bonus!
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
I’m a big foodie so in a restaurant or a pub. I also like to unwind in the countryside on a dog walk or in the gym. When I’m not working I try and find time to visit new restaurants in London and try different cuisines and menus. It keeps the inspiration flowing and it’s always a treat to be on the other side of the kitchen.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
Canapés, canapés and canapés. There is nothing thing better than sitting down with friends with a good glass of wine and tucking into some beautifully-prepared canapés.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
At home. Nothing beats home-cooked food in the comfort of your home.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend currently?
I think I’d have to say the new and various iterations of the traditional Hawaiian poke bowl. Too many restaurants have now jumped on the trend and there’s some unusual mixes coming out, from tacos to even a deconstructed pizza poke bowl.
For more information, visit peapodandco.com