Real Food Pioneer: Mark Hix

Times Online, November 11, 2009
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Photo credit: Susannah Ireland

Chef and cookery writer Mark Hix on smoking his own salmon and why the best restaurants are fun and 'scruffy’

What’s in your kitchen?

I inherited this big Viking cooker, which I probably would never have bought myself, but that’s partly what convinced me to buy the house. It’s a big, eight grand cooker, which is very nice, but not as efficient as you might think, because it’s quite an old one. It looks the part and has two ovens.

I’ve got all sorts of gadgets. I’m not really a gadget man, but I get sent a lot of products to try in many ways because of my column. I’ve got Kitchen Aid, which is one of my favourite electrical items, which is a chopper, blender all-in-one machine. I’ve also got my old faithful Waring blender, which I really like. It’s an American product and has a lovely ridged glass container. I believe they were originally designed for producing cocktails behind bars.

I also have a faithful vacuum machine which I bought from South Africa and I use that to vacuum my salmon for Selfridges.

When I opened the Chop House, I decided I wanted to smoke salmon for the restaurant, which is my contribution, so I bought this Bradley smoker, which is about the size of a domestic fridge and it has a smoke box. Now I’m smoking salmon for here, Selfridges and Richard Corrigan has just started buying my smoked salmon.

We’ve also got a lovely, old, wooden kitchen table. I bought it from Alfie’s Antique Market off Edgware Road but it wouldn’t fit through so we had to knock one of the walls down! It’s an unusual arts and crafts style table, which we’ve plonked in the middle of the kitchen. It must have been an old dressmaker or architect’s table as it’s got lots of cuts.

I quite like copper saucepans – I used to use them years ago, when I worked in hotels, although they’re a nightmare to clean. But I’m getting back into them now.

How would you sum up your food philosophy?

I’m all about sourcing British food and I’m always on the lookout for new producers. That keeps the menu alive and the chefs interested.

Photo credit: Undefined
Hix Oyster & Chop House in Clerkenwell, London
Photo credit: Vicki Couchman
Hix restaurant in Soho
Photo credit: Handout
Hix Oyster and Fish House in Dorset

How has British food and our attitudes to it changed in your lifetime?

The general public are much more educated now about food. Partly because of people like myself who write and clearly list where ingredients come from. With farmers' markets and TV and magazines, everyone’s talking about British food and I think that has made a big difference to the way people eat and shop, but I think there’s still a long way to go.

There are still a lot of people buying cheap, badly produced food from the supermarkets, who can’t afford to buy decently reared chicken, for example. I think there has to be a happy medium where there is cheaper food available that’s also better quality, which I think that supermarkets aim to do. But sometimes the cheap produce is really bad, if not in flavour then often in the way it’s been reared.

 

 

 

What annoys you about Britain’s food culture?

People are quite lazy about cooking and preparing food for the family. I think we’ve almost lost that culture of sitting around the table and eating together. Kids especially don’t respect someone cooking for them and sitting together as a family. If you go to France and Italy, sitting around the table and eating as a family is very important; sadly we don’t have that here.

What is Britain’s best-kept food secret?

Trealy Farm cured meats. They are based in Monmouthshire. I first came across them judging the BBC Farming Awards. They produce as good a cured meat as you’d get anywhere else in Europe. They do dried cured pork cheek, old-fashioned Bath chaps (pigs' cheeks in breadcrumbs), cured neck of pork loin; some really interesting cuts, very well produced.

I actually love eating in, but I’m always out. I love cooking at home and quite often I end up creating new things, because I may have a limited number of ingredients so I’ll end up making something from whatever’s in the fridge.

Otherwise, I normally like going to scruffy places. There are some good Vietnamese and Turkish restaurants near where I live in De Beauvoir [Islington]. The Cay Tre and Viet Grill around Old Street are great. I really like Mangal Ockabashi, a Turkish restaurant in Stoke Newington, too.

I don’t go to that many fancy restaurants, although I’m always trying out new places. I prefer restaurants that are fun, rather than too serious. I think that’s what restaurants should be about, for both customers and staff. Hospitality is really important when running a restaurant, but they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously.

Although, I do like nipping into one of my friend’s around the corner in Soho – Polpo – for a glass of wine and a snack.

What is the next big food trend?

Everything is getting very simple now, which I think is great. Customers want simplicity. You can’t eat out every day and have fancy food. The same applies to shopping. I think it’s changing and people are shopping locally and going to farmers’ markets. They may still be exclusive to some extent and not everyone can afford to shop there but they are a lot of fun.

Borough Market remains my favourite, so it’s a great shame that rents there are trebling and a lot of the producers, stall holders and suppliers that have been there for donkey’s years are being driven out. Quite a few of my suppliers are there, including Neal’s Yard Dairy, where I get my cheese from, Tony Booth for fruit and veg, Sillfield Farm pork, Shellseekers scallops, Brindisa for Spanish ingredients and Wright Bros oysters, among others.

There are still the supermarkets, which you can’t avoid going to. For a random shop I will go, usually, to Waitrose.

Mark Hix’s restaurants include:
Hix, 66-70, Brewer Street, London, W1F (020 7292 3518)
Hix Oyster & Fish House, Cobb Road, Lyme Regis, Dorset, DT7 (01297 446 910)
Hix Oyster & Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street, London, EC1M (020 7017 1930)

For more information, visit: Restaurants Etc Ltd


 

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Updated: December 10, 2009