Anyone who has been following my Twitter feed and read my previous post will know about my new obsession. Obsession, the cookbook by Nigel Haworth. 54 Chefs and Simon, me had a great idea to collect all 54 signatures. A great idea if not my most sensible one. I really wanted to get het ball rolling and, after obtaining Chris & Jeff Galvin’s signatures, I was eager to quickly add some more.
I often visit Selfridges so I thought Mark Hix would be my next target. I search for a contact and find the email address for Mark’s PA. Great. A very polite and slightly cheeky email is sent and I receive a fairly quick response, a lot quicker than I expected. Not only does it turn out I can arrange to get Mark’s signature, they are arranging an event in honour of Nigel’s book. It gets better, 4 courses will be presented by four different chefs. The annoying bit (only for the sake of getting signatures), Chris & Jeff Galvin are doing the main course. So let me get this right, I think to myself, I go to all the trouble of a train to London to drop my book off at La Chapelle and then go up a week after for dinner, to find they are doing this event. Okay, so this is not exactly a hardship as for one, I got to eat at La Chapelle, and two, I will actually get to meet them this time. So guys, honestly, I was not disappointed, I do love your food.
So a few emails are exchanged and tickets are purchased before, yes before, they even advertised the event. Yes we were the first and I did have a little burst of pride when I saw my name at the top of the guest list. I arrive with my wife at Selfridges, I am a very excited little bunny as my friends told me. Okay I was bouncing, I don’t think I had actually realised how much I admire these guys. It is definitely a comparison to a teenager meeting their favourite pop star. So effectively I’m one of those teenage girls who’s about to meet Take That. Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t use that analogy.
Why am I so excited? Well I’m at one of my favourite haunts, Hix Champagne Bar & Restaurant in Selfridges and it’s a private-ish event, which I don’t get to attend too often. Then the chefs, Fergus Henderson, Chris & Jeff Galvin, Brian Turner and then of course, Mark Hix and the main man of the night, Nigel Haworth. Hosting the event was Tom Parker Bowles, well it was going to be Tom as Matthew Fort had to cancel. Bonus for the night, Matthew was there. His plans had changed so he came along anyway. This is actually excellent as they are both in the book. Not technically chefs but I need their scribbles nonetheless.
There’s lots of chatter, lots of staring as some of the chefs wander about before the meal. Most of the talk is about the menu, the first time we have seen it. It’s unusual, classic and inspirational. You may think how can it be unusual and classic at the same time. Well, you have four chefs (five effectively with Chris & Jeff sharing he main course) producing the courses so it’s a great variation. So shall we begin.
Starter is Fergus Henderson’s Roast Bone Marrow with parsley salad. It arrives proudly, several roasted bones standing up and the room went quieter than any other part of the night. I have never seen anything like it in my life (reminds me of a song). It explained the crochet-esque pin on the table. A great start, getting stuck in, pulling the marrow out onto toast and munching away. I was a bit wary of the parsley salad as I’m not a huge fan of the herb but with the strong onion, marrow and toast it was perfect. A special thanks for the supply of bones for the dog , she approves of Fergus’s cooking too.
Next up is the fish course, Treacle Salmon with Scallop & Pickled Ginger. This is Nigel Haworth’s dish which he introduced with the joke that they had a treacle mine nearby and wondered what to do with this natural resource. Looking around you could tell some people actually believed him for a while. I was just sat there thinking, salmon and treacle, are you sure? I really should stop questioning chefs like this. These guys didn’t get to the top of their game for nothing. It was fantastic. My wife, who doesn’t like salmon in any form, lets Nigel know later that only he and Stuart Gilles have managed to get her to eat salmon. I don’t think Nigel understood how big a deal that is. Anyway, the sweetness of the treacle works so well with the salmon.
I’m hungry for more, wine is flowing nicely, I need more food, my tastes buds are craving the next course. Chris & Jeff Galvin present their dish, Assiette of Lamb with Pommes Boulanger & Braised Fennel. There can’t have been much of the lamb left as we got kidney, sweetbreads, saddle, a loin chip and even some breast in with the potato. I didn’t talk much during this course, I couldn’t. I love lamb and this was so well cooked, the saddle was soft, velvety almost, just cooked past rare. Only problem is I don’t like kidney and even this dish couldn’t sway me. Sorry to the kidney lovers out there, I just do not see the attraction. So another clean plate with exception of the kidney.
There’s a nice break after the main course before dessert so with book in hand I go wandering. Well I noticed hardly anyone had been talking to the chefs so I thought why not. A great bunch of guys, who even though I admire, I remembered are just human. I start by getting Nigel’s signature, number 4. Nigel even remembered my email telling him about my project and did let out a small laugh when I said I only had three so far. As I said, I had Chris & Jeff’s signatures yet still wanted to chat with them and they came over to our table so I was not rude and left my wife on her own.
I then steal Nigel’s pen and work along the table fo special guests. Matthew Fort is in my sights. A very funny chat followed as I got him on side by saying I loved Great British Menu and he and Pru were great “but get rid of that other guy” I quipped. Matthew found this quite amusing. So that’s number five. Tom Parker Bowles is chatting to Fergus Henderson so I sneak in there and grab signatures 6 & 7. Found out Tom has lost his job on the radio as I mentioned his show. I emailed a question in for Olly Smith when he was on the show and Tom remembered, he said, “You’re the guy Olly knows on Twitter”. I’m glad I leave an impression with people, just hope it’s for the right reasons! Dessert is staring to come out so I nip back to the table.
This is where we are treated to the best Rice Pudding I have ever had. Brian Turner, who I really only knew from Ready Steady Cook before I got into food. If I could only ask one chef about how to make a pudding, it would be Brian. This rice pudding, as Brian put it, is an English dish, not British, English. Served with a spiced blackberry jam which was just divine. Oh and now skin on the pudding to the agreement of most of the guests I think.
Pudding done, I need to hunt down my last tow signatures. I take a wander over to Brian. I then take my wife over to meet him as she wanted a hug because, and I quote “Brian Turner is just one fo those men who look like they’d give you a good hug”. A hug she got too from the charmer “Oh is this your daughter?” asks Brian. We had quite a lengthy chat with Brian who gave me a lot of tips and advice to help me decide if I want to get into the profession myself. And there we are, the big black book now has eight signatures. One more left to get tonight, Mr Hix.
Mark, you’re a hard man to get hold of. I think I approached Mark about 5 times before managing to get to him before he got dragged off somewhere. We spoke mainly about the bar and the changes he’d made. I loved the old Moet bar and still think of it fondly. Mark has done a great job with it, kept it classic and gone back in time with the old-fashioned champagne glasses. Mark signs my book and we reach number 9 (on cloud nine – got there in the end).
That’s it, it’s all over. No more to tell as I reach number 9 in the book. Only 45 to go then. I have to say it was a great night, met some great people, not just the chefs and have made some new Twitter friends in the process. As we were leaving I did sneakily ask Nigel how I could get Germain Schwab’s signature as he has retired to France. It’s going to be a tough one that.
One last thing, I have to thank two people. Jo Verberne and Augusta Adu of Hix Food etc. Ladies, thank you so much for letting me know and sorting out the tickets.
Hix Restaurant & Champagne Bar, Selfridges, London, www.hixatselfridges.co.uk
The Book – Nigel Haworth’s Obsession (well worth being part of your collection)
A donation from the night and the book goes to Hospitality Action www.hospitalityaction.org.uk