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I'm Bringing Faggots Back to London's Restaurant Scene

People aren’t interested in meat and two veg anymore, you’ve got to mix it up. I put faggots and veal with cream of St George’s mushrooms on the menu recently and I’m amazed at the uptake.

by Ronnie Murray
May 27 2015, 2:30pm

Photo via Flickr user stu spivack

Like a lot of things, British food seems to be back in fashion now. I've worn Adidas Gazelles for 20 years and suddenly I'm very cool again. All the lads in the kitchen are like, Nice trainers, chef! and I've been wearing them since '95.

British cooking was done quite badly ten or 15 ten years ago and now we're returning to the produce and ingredients that we've got. That's sort of how Mark Hix and I came together: my passion for bringing back old British classics and simplicity in ingredients.

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At the moment, we've got veal on the menu with cream of St George's mushrooms and I'm amazed at the uptake. Veal has a bad reputation and has been underused, but we get some great stuff from a local producer and it just flies out.

Our daily set menu uses up bits of the trim and the offcuts, and any of the stuff leftover. We've got veal dumplings going on today, which is a load of the offal and then all the rump trim wrapped in caul fat. Put that with some crushed peas and it'll fly.

It's a bit like faggot, which is a really old fashioned dish, but if you get it worded right and get the flavour right, people will really get into. You come to places like HIX Soho for something a bit more edgy and it's nice when you can put those types of dishes on a set menu. It's accessible.

Because people aren't interested in meat and two veg anymore, you've got to mix it up. We're very seasonal with our menus so peas and broad beans are in at the minute. It works because in the summer, people don't want to eat the heavy stuff.

We also try to utilise any offcuts somewhere else on the menu. Our profit margin is made on how sensible we are with the cutting, the trim, and what goes into the stock. When I started cooking 20 years ago, the waste was horrific; nobody used the offal. What Fergus has done with "nose to tail" is the Hix ethos as well. The joy of having eight restaurants [in the HIX group of restaurants] is that Chop House, which is a meat and bone restaurant, will use all the prime cuts and we'll use the other stuff for things like our like veal belly dish.

The reality is, lots of people are left behind. When people get in with a chef they think, Yeah, I'm going to have fantastic food every night but you're not. Who do you think is cooking the food in the restaurant? I'm lucky if I'm at home for dinner two nights a week.

The exposure in the media has been great for the industry. Just like kids in the park playing football think they're going to be David Beckham, a lot of these kids coming into kitchens see the likes of Jamie Oliver—who has done fantastic work—but they all think they're going to be a rock 'n' roll star; the next Noel Gallagher of the cooking world.

The reality is, lots of people are left behind. When people get in with a chef they think, Yeah, I'm going to have fantastic food every night but you're not. Who do you think is cooking the food in the restaurant? I'm lucky if I'm at home for dinner two nights a week.

Chefs can't just rock in and be a sauce chef nowadays, either. You need more strings to your bow. At HIX Academy [the commercial restaurant run by trainee chefs and front of house staff], they get a bit of time in the kitchen, on the bar, on reception, and on the floor. They get to understand how the whole business runs. As a chef, you need to understand when you write a menu, what the impact that has on the floor staff, and how long things take to cook. You've got to know the impact it has on reservations or how quickly you can get a table turned, and understand the whole ethos to the business. It's very competitive now.

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You see lots of these guys on Masterchef and a fraction of them understand what they're getting into and the rest of them think it's all cool. Of course we put the world to rights in the kitchen—you talk politics, banking, the whole lot—and it's a fantastic environment to be in, but you're not necessarily in it for the money. You're in it for the vibe.

Being a professional chef is a lifestyle choice, rather than a job. I'm looking at my fish guy now, chopping parsley. For what I'm paying him a week, he could stack shelves in Tesco. He needs to earn a living and it's important that people earn what they deserve, but he's here because he loves it. He loves the service, he loves the banter, the whole package.

As told to Phoebe Hurst.