A chat with Mark Hix

Feb 22 2024.

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Lauded as one of Britain’s most eminent restaurateurs, and renowned for his unparalleled expertise in sourcing ingredients with distinct provenance, Mark Hix is an award-winning author and food writer with 12 cookbooks to his name. His latest book ‘Hooked’ weaves captivating stories of fishing from his childhood years to the present. As a chef, Hix opened the successful Hix Oyster and the Chop House in 2007 and continued to operate a number of restaurants under the Hix brand including the successful HIX Oyster and Fish Truck. Hix’s contributions to the hospitality sector were formally recognised in the New Year’s Honours list of 2017 when he was awarded an MBE.

Last weekend, Mark Hix was the celebrity guest chef of Gourmet Galle  (happening January  12 – March 31) and hosted a five-course dinner at Braganza house in Talpe and conducted a Masterclass in Galle Fort.  Ahead of his dinner, he chatted with us about his entry to the culinary world, his signature style and the food highlights of his journey to Sri Lanka.

Tell us a little about your journey with food and the culinary world - how did it all start?
Slight mishap maybe. I was brought up on the seaside and I didn’t know what to do once I left school. I did domestic science in the fifth year at school instead of metalwork because we thought we would be in a classroom full of girls, but it was actually just three boys and a teacher! I really enjoyed that. Then I worked in a pub in the summer and my dad’s friend persuaded me to go to catering college for two years. I had such a good lecturer there who always spoke about London and he influenced me to go there. My first job was staff canteen at the London Hilton and then to a little restaurant in the city. My lucky break was getting the head chef job at Le Caprice and then taking over The Ivy. I did that for 18 years and then started my own restaurant.

Can you recall a particular moment/memory which started your love for food?
My parents were divorced so I lived with my grandparents most of the time. My gram cooked very simple stuff and my grandfather grew stuff in the garden. So I didn’t have a great love for food back then but because I was living by the seaside I was introduced to very luxurious food like lobster and crabs because they used to land on the doorstep, so seafood I suppose influenced me a lot.

What’s your signature style when it comes to food and cooking?
Very simple. I’ve got a hard and fast rule – no more than three ingredients on the plate. For me, the main ingredient should sing with one or two other seasonal things on the plate, sometimes none at all.

As a professional chef, what’s your honest advice for the home cook or the first-timer?
Keep things simple – whichever is easy to prepare, and quick to serve. I write a column for the Telegraph every Saturday so for a home cook I would always recommend not to get a shopping list from different cookbooks that you hash together when you go shopping. Be confident find your main ingredient and work backwards. Your dinner guests aren’t looking for you to show off and cook fancy food – they just want food cooked well.

What are your menu highlights for the Gourmet Galle dinner?
I sort of drafted a menu from the distance and I wanted to see what seafood I could work with and I found some fantastic local ingredients. I’m doing this sort of ragu and kheema curry with goat and octopus and mashed yam and squash. I’m doing a crab pakora with a spicy crab mayonnaise and then a seafood salad with squid and prawns with a tomato-ginger dressing. Then something great with the fish, king mackerel with spiced lentils! For dessert, a spiced chocolate and pumpkin pie with local buffalo curd and kithul. All of this is served with three signature cocktails that go with the meal.

What will you treat the guests to at the Masterclass?
Well, I love fishing so I want to go fishing and catch something good for the class. I’ll teach them to grill the fish, make a ceviche and do about three dishes overall.

Your favourite Sri Lankan ingredient or dish?
I’ve been here for three days and I’ve yet to eat anything to knock my socks off. I went to the supermarket in the morning, and I found vanilla and immediately went ‘wow’ because I’d never seen such fresh vanilla!  But I’m learning to make hoppers which I ate recently with the spicy coconut sambol – it’s the best food I’ve eaten so far!

Gourmet Galle is a 12-week-long gourmet food festival up and down the south coast of Sri Lanka giving guests the fantastic opportunity to enjoy a meal cooked by celebrity and world-renowned chefs and to learn how it’s all done at their masterclass.  The dinners take place in exquisite homes and the finest boutique hotels and each menu is curated especially for the occasion.

Catch Sri Lankan Michelin Starred chef Rishi Naleendra this weekend for dinner on 24th February at Kurulu Bay or learn his cooking secrets at his Masterclass on 25th February at Galle Fort Hotel or plan ahead to join chef and TV personality Paul Flynn for dinner on 1st March at the Why House or his Masterclass on 3rd March at Galle Fort Hotel.  For more details on the chefs and the full programme, visit https://gourmetgalle.com.  

Pix courtesy:  Gourmet Galle



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