For London-based chef and restaurateur Jackson Boxer, food is very much a family affair. His grandmother, Lady Arabella Boxer, is a celebrated cookbook writer whose iconic recipe tomes became kitchen bibles to a generation of home entertainers, and continue to inspire to this day (her Book of English Food was recently reprinted on account of popular demand). Boxer’s father, Charlie, runs the South London deli Italo, whose diminutive size belies the pivotal role it plays as a central hub—and source of excellent Italian groceries—for the local community. And his brother, Frank, owns the red-hot London bar of the same name, where perfect Negronis and panoramic views are enjoyed from a car park rooftop in Peckham. So far, so illustrious.
At just 28, Boxer is already making his own, indelible mark on the rapidly evolving food culture in London. At his restaurant Brunswick House Café—located in a converted antiques warehouse in the off-piste neighborhood of Vauxhall—Boxer serves what he describes as “very British, very simple, very confident” dishes made using fresh produce from the nearby New Covent Garden Market and local meat suppliers. The Guardian didn’t mince words when it called Brunswick House “perfect.”
[Fergus Henderson’s] credo is just taking the best ingredients and cooking them very simply so that everything comes together and speaks for itself. It’s a marvelous principle on which to base a menu.
Meanwhile, in the East London hipster mecca of Dalston, Boxer oversees Rita’s Bar and Dining alongside Gabriel Pryce, Deano Jo, and Missy Flynn—originally a temporary venture above a nightclub, it’s now seeking a permanent home due to popular demand. Rita’s Southern-style menu of fried chicken and Key lime pie might not feel quite as quintessentially British as Brunswick House’s Lancashire pudding and red cabbage, but Boxer’s commitment to fresh, quality ingredients carries through. “I’ve always been puzzled why London, which seems to have more fried chicken shops than any other type of fast food, does it so badly,” he explains. “I felt that we could make a much better product using happy, free-range chickens, as well as playing around with modernist techniques like brining.”
It’s an ethos that hints at the education he’s received from some of Britain’s most influential culinary figures. Brought up by parents who “were great cooks and great entertainers,” Boxer’s moment of epiphany came at the age of 16, when he got a job as potwasher-slash-babysitter for Margot Henderson. The celebrated chef-owner of Shoreditch restaurant Rochelle Canteen also happens to be the wife of St John’s Fergus Henderson, the man whom Boxer cites as his greatest inspiration: “[Henderson’s] credo is just taking the best ingredients and cooking them very simply so that everything comes together and speaks for itself. It’s a marvelous principle on which to base a menu.”
Henderson’s influence also extends to Boxer’s front-of-house approach. In his own restaurants, he aims to recreate the sense of wonder that he experienced on his first visit to St John at the tender age of 12. “I remember thinking it was the most glamorous place I’d ever been. Everything was so considered; starched tablecloths and beautiful cutlery. And there was just this buzz of a full restaurant, of lots of people having very fun conversations, but feeling very well looked after.”
Creating buzz is something Boxer does well. As one of the pioneers of London’s flourishing DIY dining scene (he prefers not to be affiliated with the ‘pop-up’ trend, observing that “the term has been so co-opted”), Boxer clearly has a second sense for what people want to eat—and how they want to eat it. At his next project, Palazzo Peckham, he’ll be cooking out of a temporary kitchen once again: this time in a disused boat yard in Venice, as part of an art project for the Biennale. In characteristic fashion, Boxer plans to serve food that reflects his London heritage in an unexpected way: “The menu is inspired by Peckham street food—jerk chicken, African barbecue… The stuff we’d eat on our lunch break when we were first opening Frank’s. Venice is so international, so we want to give the menu a sense of place; of where we’re from.”
Here, Boxer tells us all about where he’s from—and how he developed his love affair with modern British cookery—as he breaks down the 10 dishes that have influenced his career so far.
Interview by Phoebe Lovatt (@PhoebeLovatt)