Monday, 30 May 2011

Talking to Mark Hix - on food and (prawn) cocktails

Following shortly after I got to interview Gino D'Acampo, I was offered the chance to interview Mark Hix. You might not know who he is but I do! He used to be chef director of the group that runs The Ivy, that favourite celebrity haunt. A few years ago, he left to set up his own chain of restaurants, now in 3 sites across London and one in Lyme Regis. I first came across Mark Hix when watching Great British Menu in 2007. His food was simple, but stunning. His competitor in the heats thought his main course - a rabbit and crayfish stargazey pie - was "pub grub" but both that and another dish featured in the final banquet. I would have loved to have met Mark in person but it wasn't possible to arrange, so this interview took place with the wonders of mobile phones and conference calls. I started by asking Mark about a new dish he's created for his restaurant in Selfridges in conjunction with Bird's Eye. 

Tell me about the Emperor Prawn Cocktail  you’ve created - what’s different about it?

The focus is on high quality ingredients. I used Birds Eye Emperor Prawns as they are frozen very quickly and are very meaty so they are a high quality product  - a bit like frozen peas; because they are frozen so quickly, you can guarantee the quality which you can’t with fresh.

Apart from that, I use high quality ingredients to make a really good prawn cocktail – crisp lettuce, a high quality tomato ketchup and mayonnaise but I’ve also added a bit of horseradish, Tabasco and a little Pernod to the sauce.

Why did you decide to get involved with Bird’s Eye and create the dish?

Everyone loves a prawn cocktail. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was a classic dish so it was good to take the Emperor Prawns and turn it into something high quality, it’s really popular with the customers.

Lots of mums mentioned your Eat Up! Book and how good it is. One of my twitter followers even asked me to thank you for it.

Yes, I get a lot of positive comments about it. It was the first book I published. What I wanted to do was show that adults and children could eat the same things – perhaps with a little bit of adaptation for the children, but that adults didn’t have to cook separate meals for their children.

Did you cook much with your children when they were younger? (He has twin girls)

Yes, I think that’s quite important as it helps to get children to eat proper food.

What sort of things would you cook with them?

Risotto – because that’s an excellent dish for children, and fish fingers – actually, fish fingers is our biggest seller in the restaurants. We make it with sustainable fish like pollock or coley and we serve them with some nice mushy peas and chips.

A chef's lifestyle is not really conducive to a healthy lifestyle. What do you do to stay fit?

I don’t really do anything. I eat fairly healthily – a lot of people who work in kitchens can abuse their diet and not eat a very good diet.  I’m not a health freak or anything – I think it’s about balancing it out.

What type of food do you most like to eat when it’s not you cooking?

It really depends on my mood. Food is all about moods. So I might like some Asian or Indian, something with a bit of spice. Or it might be fish.

What do you think of the standard of restaurant food in this country, both in London and outside?

Well, we’re lucky in London, it’s said to be one of the gastronomic capitals of the world along with New York and Paris. There’s over a hundred different cuisines available. It has improved over the last 10 years. In terms of cooking, I think we’re ahead of the French now. Even beyond London, it’s improved a lot – even in pubs, you can get good food now. There’s still a lot of bad too but that happens everywhere.

What are your favourite restaurants?

My friend has a place called Viet Grill in London.  And places like River Cafe – both are just really good, with no fuss.

You don’t really like the fine dining experience then? 

No. It’s fine but it’s really only for special occasions and it’s not something you can eat all the time. Really good food you can eat any time is what I like.

How do you relax when you’re not working?

Fishing – in fact, I’m off to the coast this weekend to do some fishing.

Mark Hix has created a modern twist on the classic prawn cocktail dish using Birds Eye’s new Emperor King Prawns. The Emperor Prawn Cocktail is on the menu at HIX Restaurant and Champagne Bar, Selfridges during Project Ocean. Emperor King Prawns are Birds Eye’s biggest and juiciest king prawns; cooked in their shell to retain more flavour and succulence and then peeled and frozen within two and a half hours to maximise taste and freshness.

(I have not been paid for this interview.)
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