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Letter from Simon Kelner: Charity, good food and a nice banker


I don't like to talk about my charity work, but do you remember i 's auction last Christmas, in which readers were invited to bid for various exclusive lots, from a cricket lesson with Angus Fraser to a day in the TV studio with Claudia Winkleman? The auction raised £65,000 for the various charities supported by i and our sister paper, The Independent, and one of the lots was lunch with me (I know what you're thinking: people will actually pay for that?).

Anyway, the successful bidder was a very nice banker (yes, it's possible) called Kevin Burke, and, over the grilled sea bass, we had a very entertaining tour d'horizon: I tackled him on bonuses, he tackled me on hacking. If he's not careful, however, Kevin is in danger of giving bankers a good name because, as well as donating thousands of pounds for lunch with me, he spent even more on another lot: dinner with i 's resident chef Mark Hix at his eponymous restaurant in Soho.

Last night Kevin redeemed his prize, and took some friends along, one of whom turned out to be Piers Morgan's cousin, but we'll let that pass. And, as he'd clearly not finished explaining neo-classical endogenous growth theory at our lunch, I was invited, too. With our celebrated chef at the table, the conversation was inevitably oriented towards foodie matters and Mark, in his relaxed, insouciant way, gave us the benefit of his views on everything from bread sauce (one thing that's as good from a packet as it is when you spend hours making it) to organic meat (something that's well-reared and has good provenance is more important than its organic credentials). He chose white wine from Herefordshire (nice idea, Mark, but I'm afraid there's a headache in every glass). We had chicken from Woolley Park in Somerset, steak from Aberdeen, cobnuts from Kent, and salmon smoked in Mark's back garden in east London.

Mark was one of the chefs who helped make the sourcing of locally grown seasonal ingredients de rigueur for top restaurants, so much so that his menu reads more like a gazetteer of the British Isles. Kevin and his charming wife, Ali, live in the Welsh borders, and know a thing or two about home-grown food themselves, but appreciated they were in the company of a proper food hero, and hung on Mark's every word as if it was the holy writ. Their admiration for him wasn't even diminished when I told them of the time Mark was found, fast asleep, in the back seat of a taxi in Tenerife. But that's a story for another day. Have a great weekend.