I have had some tricky journalistic assignments in my time, but interviewing, in front of a live audience, Britain's most self-effacing, least voluble chef was not – appropriately enough, given that the event marked his new book on baking – a piece of cake.
You will know Mark Hix, i's house cook, from his Saturday column, with its accent on seasonal British recipes, but you will not know him from television. Mark is alone among the stellar chefs of his generation in being able to walk down the street unrecognised.
"I don't like being on telly," he said in the course of our conversation the other night, "but there are some chefs for whom their TV career comes first. This has had a terribly damaging effect on their restaurants." (In case you're wondering, Jamie Oliver is not one of them, Hix believing that he has done more than anyone to change the eating habits of a nation.)
Hix doesn't have a reputation for effing and blinding. He doesn't have a colourful private life that has been raked over in the tabloids. And his career isn't littered with high-profile business failures. He is, first and last, a chef, and, in front of an audience who had paid a good few quid to hear him speak and eat his red deer with parsnip hot pot, he did his best to explain a food philosophy that, at its heart, has real simplicity.
Regular readers of Saturday's i will have noticed that Hix's recipes don't require blow torches, liquid nitrogen and a rice wine that only comes from a specific region of Japan. His accent is on the raw materials, and it is because of this that Hix – alongside Jamie Oliver – deserves a place in our culinary pantheon for being at the vanguard of a movement to create a new British cuisine based on locally sourced, ethically reared, organically produced ingredients.
Sometimes the menu at a Hix restaurant sounds more like a gazetteer – mackerel from Cornwall, duck from Lancashire, cobnuts from Kent – but it has proved a successful formula.
Hix, a softly-spoken man of Dorset, would never be so bold to say it, but the current pre-eminence of London as a restaurant destination owes a lot to his promotion of an indigenous cuisine that had been forgotten in the land of the chicken tikka masala.
I have often thought that the act of cooking is part science, part conjuring trick, a view confirmed when, a few years ago, I had the great fortune of seeing Hix in my kitchen. There he was at the stove, drink in one hand, stopping occasionally for a fag, conducting a conversation, taking calls on his mobile, and without anyone even noticing, a short while later a magnificent four-course lunch emerged.
His insouciance might make him a difficult man to interview, but it creates a magical effect when he goes about his business. Watch out for Hix's recipe in tomorrow's i. I hear it's 101 things to do with a duck.