Heston Blumenthal | Profile Magazine
Heston Blumenthal; the multi-award-winning British celebrity chef, aka, culinary genius needs little introduction. Afterall, he’s cooked up a career on the basis of taking what we think we know about food and challenging it (anyone for nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream?)
In my decade-long career as a journalist, never have I had the table turn, where I become the interviewee. But then again, never have I been at a table with Heston Blumenthal, who is renowned for bending the rules and testing the otherwise known confines.
The moment in question came when asking Heston what his favourite thing is to eat.
“I don’t have a favourite thing to eat, I love eating,” he says. “A question for you, ‘What’s your favourite thing to eat?”
After a brief silence (as I wasn’t expecting to be in the hot seat), I respond with, lasagne.
“If you’re on the beach on a squelching hot day and it’s 10am in the morning with your mates, music playing, you might be drinking juice, coconut water or something stronger, I don’t think your favourite thing to eat there would necessarily be a lasagne,” he says.
“It’s not a problem, it’s actually part of what makes food so wonderful, because there are moments in time where you just want ‘one of these’ and there will be moments in time when you crave a lasagne and that lasagne comes and it’s not the lasagne you had in mind, but you don’t know why, it’s not ticking the boxes and you can try eating it and you’re kind of full, but you’re still hungry.”
Heston is back in Australia filming episodes for his highly anticipated week on MasterChef Australia, where he puts the remaining contestants through off-site challenges designed around the four elements – earth, water, air and fire.
“We had moments this week, which is the very first time it’s happened,” he says, building suspense.
“I said I would like them to really get this dish to root themselves in their environment; the river, the eucalyptus trees, the birds chirping and tweeting, and there was a dish on the first day of filming in the Murray River where, it was like in Back to the Future where someone is on the screen in a vortex,” he says, attempting to make the sound effect.
“It was like that, where at that moment I didn’t think about salt levels, acidity levels, contrast and textures, none of that became relevant because the dish had taken me to a place and connected me to where I was – and that is what food can do.”
Having been invited back as a guest judge many times, Heston admits he feels like part of the show now (and just quietly says he wouldn’t complain about a permanent callback), and credits the success of MasterChef to the fact it doesn’t humiliate its contestants.
“This is a really big thing, we’re losing creativity; imagination is what makes humans human. Without imagination we wouldn’t have all the things you see around us,” he says.
“The education system is ‘educating out’ creativity because we become too fearful of failing or looking stupid and what MasterChef does is unzip all of that and you have nowhere to hide, so they can then start to become human and it’s emotional, you see them put their all into it.”
Heston is engrossed in food and it’s a passion which ignited while dining with his family at a gastronomic restaurant in France when he was 16.
“It was almost like I’d gone to some bizarre food-based Disneyland,” he says.
“I remembered all of the things like the noise of feet crunching on the gravel, the cicadas, the crickets, running water in the background, the fountain, the handlebar moustache of the sommelier and all this stuff I’d never seen before; it was like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole.”
Inspired, Heston poured through the pages of Larousse Gastronomique, a classic French cookbook, and bought a collection of books by France’s top chefs.
“When I hear myself saying this I think, ‘Heston you really needed to get a life’, I translated it in pencil using a French-English dictionary,” he says.
“Then I started thinking, ‘How come all these 20 French chefs have 20 recipes for a vanilla ice cream and they all have eggs and milk and sugar and vanilla in them, but some have whole eggs, some just have eggs yolks, some have double cream, whole milk, some skim milk, some sugar, some have glucose? Are all of these things here for a specific reason, or is just what they’ve been told and they don’t know why?”
Heston then read a book about the science of cooking, which explores the science of everyday life, such as – what happens when you toast a piece of bread, and what temperature does egg yolk set at?
“In that book Harold McGee says, ‘Browning meat does not keep in the juices’, and that was like finding out Father Christmas wasn’t real. And he goes on to explain why and it’s bloody obvious and from that moment my life changed food-wise because I then questioned everything,” he says.
Heston has gone on to revolutionise the culinary world, introducing us to thrice-cooked chips and ice cream set with liquid nitrogen. But, still to this day, there is one experiment which has him beat.
“I did spend four years trying to do savoury candy floss once and I realised maybe I should devote my energy to doing something else.”
I wonder what this magnificent mind has in store for us next.
Originally published in Profile Magazine