Emily Rookwood enjoys being bent out of joint when she goes to one of Mark Hix’s carving masterclasses
CARVING THE SUNDAY roast has long been the duty of the man of the household. Let’s face it, though: between the generations of men with their beige-and-mustard electric carving knives and enthusiastic young Nigella wannabes attacking a chicken with manicured nails and a pair of red kitchen scissors, carving is a skill that is lost on most people.
With his series of masterclasses at Brown’s, Mark Hix is aiming to revive the ‘forgotten art of carving’ and with it the tradition of families sitting down together for a proper meal. (A pre-Christmas class could rescue your seasonal joint.) It should be noted early on that this class is not only for dexterously-challenged males – everyone is capable of mastering both knife and carving fork.
Hix expertly guided his blade through the tender meat on show and made swiftly de-legging a juicy bird or grabbing the bone of a rose-pink leg of lamb not only look impressive but also rather enviably fun. Hosted in a private dining room in London’s oldest hotel guests can learn how to create a similar feeling of envy among family and friends in a matter of hours at what is best described as an educational dinner party (feast, bottle of wine, new friends and one very experienced chef all included in the £150 price tag).
The lesson starts sensibly with the raw ingredients and some good solid advice. A whistle-stop tour of various joints and their preparation and the odd quip about the sloppy nature of British butchers are accompanied by crackling, lamb scrumpets (breaded breast meat, deep fried and – forgive the pun – scrumptious) and morsels of culinary knowledge. Rare breeds, we are told, are not always worth their hefty price tag – you are better off going for a beast bred for eating, succulent and with a nice marbling of fat. After all, fat does make everything taste better.
Hix says that you should always be able to ask your butcher for advice on cuts, breeds and provenance, though be prepared that many butchers have an ‘if in doubt, mince it’ mentality. Helpfully his cookery book – thoughtfully supplied in signed form in the goody bag – is the ultimate companion for a trip to the butchers. If all else fails you can point to the cut you want.
The casually told stories and little tips from Mark Hix equip attendees with an understanding and appreciation for produce that simply can’t be found in books alone.
AT THE HEAD of the parade of roasts was the chicken. Proudly perched on a serving spike, this was quickly dispatched with varying degrees of success. It transpires that even under the guidance of a true expert some will inevitably require a few more practice sessions before trying to impress the in-laws. At this juncture the importance of having a good knife becomes very clear – long, sweeping strokes with the correct blade will improve your carving no end, perhaps enough to tempt even the most nervous carvers into the dining room. Go for a more expensive knife – heavy and sharp – as an investment which can last a lifetime if well looked after.
Next came the leg of Elwy lamb, sat on its hay bed, suitably rustic but a harder beast to carve than the fowl thanks to the tangle of muscles sweeping around the central bone. Slices hewn from the shank by the long, flexible blade ranged in thickness from wafer thin to doorstop-ish. The juices mopped up by crisp roasties and tender seasonal veg.
By the time the rib of pork was wheeled in, only the greediest ventured in. Hix was left to do the hard work as over-fed guests looked on intently. Deftly removed from both crackling and rib bone, the blushing meat was sliced and returned to the upright rib for a professional flourish. Of course, you could simply carve through the rib to create chops but that won’t impress the Joneses to the same degree.
On the off-chance that we were not sated after three full roasts out came a paddling pool-sized crystal bowl of trifle – autumnal fruits, Somerset eau-de-vie and oodles of cream – better than your granny made it, I guarantee, and a fitting end to a splendid spread.
Some people rarely host Sunday lunches, can barely poach an egg and struggle to know which end is which when it comes to a chicken. If you fall into this camp, the Hix Carving Masterclass is a necessity, taking the fear out of what fathers have always made seem an impenetrable, impossible art: carving isn’t difficult, it just requires the right tools and a little know-how. Long-term carvers can benefit too by observing Hix’s subtle technique. And anything which lets you encourage your father to put down that hideous mustard coloured implement of torture must be worth it.
The Mark Hix Carving Masterclasses cost £150 per person and include
> The two-hour masterclass
> A dinner including all carved meats served with potatoes and vegetables, a bottle of wine per person, desserts and a cheese course
> A Brown’s Hotel apron
> A signed Mark Hix cookery book
The Masterclasses will take place at Brown’s Hotel on 17 November, 23 November, 7 December, 15 December, 11 January, 25 January, 9 February and 15 March. Classes will be held from 6-8pm (apart from on 7 December which will be from noon-2pm). There is a maximum of ten guests at each masterclass.
020 7493 6020 or www.roccofortehotels.com