LA confidential

On location in Hollywood, Mark Hix and his cast of stars put on a show for an Oscars party. What did they cook? All is revealed ...
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When London's movie-makers and Soho shakers hit Hollywood for the Oscars last month, guess who got to go too? My crack team and I were invited by Nick Jones, owner of the Soho House clubs in London and New York, and Babington House, to help out at the villa he'd rented for a week in Beverly Hills. We took eight chefs who either worked or had worked at The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey, headed up by executive head chef Tim Hughes. It was a bit like getting the crew together for The Italian Job.

When London's movie-makers and Soho shakers hit Hollywood for the Oscars last month, guess who got to go too? My crack team and I were invited by Nick Jones, owner of the Soho House clubs in London and New York, and Babington House, to help out at the villa he'd rented for a week in Beverly Hills. We took eight chefs who either worked or had worked at The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey, headed up by executive head chef Tim Hughes. It was a bit like getting the crew together for The Italian Job.

I know it sounds glamorous, but when you have to set up a kitchen from scratch to serve an à la carte menu for more than 150 guests a day, plus a posh canape cocktail party each evening, it's not exactly a holiday - more like a test of flexibility and tolerance.

Stuck in the kitchen you don't get out to see the stars, but on the plus side, travelling and cooking blind always stirs up the creative juices. You never know what you are going to find at the other end, but we aimed for a Californian feel and before we left we sort of planned a safeish menu. Part of the fun, though, is not knowing what you will end up cooking, and I always recommend going shopping before you plan your dinner party menu. But we were doing that on a much bigger scale. Of course, you can buy every ingredient you can imagine from suppliers. We also found a small specialist that produced the most incredible baby salads, herbs and micro greens.

You would expect restaurants in LA to do more with gear of the quality that's growing around them, but for the size of the place it's a bit of a restaurant dessert. With a couple of f well-known exceptions, like the original Nobu and Spago, it makes you appreciate just how spoilt we are in London. Any plans I had for picking up fashionable food vibes were scrapped, as there was no hint of any culinary tremors.

I did get a chance, though, to pay a quick visit to a restaurant called The Ivy, no relation to ours and nothing like it either. I guess you had to be dining at the Soho House villa to get your fix of The Ivy, California-style.

Seared tuna with marinaded fennel salad

Serves 4

The tuna from Santa Monica Seafoods was sashimi quality, so what better than to serve it almost raw. Fennel is one of those veg with so many possibilities - it can be braised, deep fried, or served raw in salads. Raw and slightly marinaded it works perfectly as a healthy light starter that can be prepared in advance.

Vegetable oil, for frying
400g good-quality, very fresh tuna loin
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 small fennel bulbs, any feathery tops reserved
10 fennel seeds, crushed
2 tbsp Chardonnay vinegar or 2 tbsp good-quality white wine vinegar mixed with 1 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp olive oil

Rub a heavy-based frying pan, preferably non-stick, with a little vegetable oil and heat it until it's almost smoking. Meanwhile, season the tuna with salt and pepper, and sear it for about 30 seconds on all sides until lightly coloured. Refrigerate until required.

If the fennel is large and the outer leaves are fibrous, peel them with a potato peeler. Trim any green leaves off and chop them finely. Quarter the fennel bulbs and cut out the solid core. With a mandolin, preferably a sharp Japanese one, or a very sharp knife, slice the fennel as thinly as possible, and put it into a bowl. Mix in any chopped greens from the tops, the fennel seeds, vinegar and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and leave to stand for about an hour.

To serve, slice the tuna as thinly as possible, arrange the fennel on plates and lay the tuna on top.

Grilled corn-fed chicken with creamed sweetcorn and roasted squash

Serves 4

This is a typical Californian style brasserie dish, I suppose, as both corn and squashes grow in abundance. Our corn is not as sweet as the American stuff so canned Jolly Green giant makes a perfectly good alternative.

4 large corn fed chicken breasts with the skin on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp thyme leaves, chopped
250g of sweetcorn, drained
4tbsp double cream
1kg butternut squash, peeled and seeded
Olive oil for roasting
1tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
1tbsp chopped parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/430ºF/gas mark 7.

Cut the squash into rough 2-3cm chunks. Season and put them in a roasting tray with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Roast for about 45 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile mix the garlic and thyme with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper and rub all over the chicken breasts. Fry them in a heavy pan for a couple of minutes on each side and then finish them for another 10 minutes in the oven.

While the chicken is cooking, put the sweetcorn in a saucepan with the double cream and season. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Coarsely blend in a liquidiser or food processor and return to the pan. Simmer for another 3-4 minutes until it has thickened to spooning consistency.

To serve mix the roasted squash with the toasted pumpkin seeds, parsley and a spoonful of olive oil, and arrange in a pile on warmed plates. Spoon the creamed sweetcorn onto the plates and serve the chicken on the sweetcorn.

Blueberry, pecan and mascarpone cheesecake

Serves 4-6

Blueberries are abundant in California and are somewhat more tasty than some of the imported ones we get over here. There is a comfort feeling about tucking into a rich creamy cheesecake whatever flavour it is. When we arrived in Beverly Hills, Phil Usher our executive pastry chef for all the restaurants found the scales didn't work and the ovens were all in Fahrenheit. Desserts are a science and weights and temperatures are crucial to the final result. After a day or so Phil was using cups as a measure, as they do over in the US, and had mastered the ovens well enough to produce a dessert we could be proud of. Use any fruit in season for this cheesecake. Or frozen blueberries will do - if you're not in California.

350g blueberries, fresh or frozen
200g caster sugar
200ml water
20g cornflour
250g digestive biscuits
80g butter, melted

for the cheesecake

500g mascarpone
250ml double cream
100g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
60g pecans, roughly chopped
2tsp icing sugar

Put 100g of the blueberries into a pan with the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Dilute the cornflour with a little water and stir into the blueberries and continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the blueberries through with the back of a spoon. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile in a food processor crush the biscuits to a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. To do this by hand, put the biscuits in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin. Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter. Line a 14-18cm round or square removeable-bottomed cake or deep flan tin (or one of those with a side that unclips) with greaseproof paper. Pack the biscuit mixture into the tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon.

Mix the pecans with the icing sugar and lightly toast under a medium grill on some foil, stirring every so often until the sugar coats and caramelises a little. It won't take more than four minutes so keep your eyes on them. Remove and leave to cool.

Using a mixing machine or with a hand whisk, whip the double cream with the vanilla and sugar until fairly stiff. In a clean bowl, first soften the mascarpone, either by leaving out of the fridge, or with a fork or in the mixer. With a whisk or the mixer, fold it into the whipped cream with the pecans, until well mixed.

Gently stir in half of the blueberry syrup - not too thoroughly as you want it to form a ripple effect. Now spoon the mix on to the biscuit base, leaving the top a bit rough. Leave to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm.

Mix the rest of the blueberries with the remaining syrup. Remove the cheesecake from the tin - you may need to run a hot knife around the edge - then slide it onto a serving dish. Serve in squares or slices with a couple of spoonfuls of the blueberry sauce.

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