August 26, 2009

Can a slapdash home cook find perfection?

I have a confession to make:  I have a major geek crush on Heston Blumenthal.  I love the way the man thinks about food, his methodical, questioning nature, and the way he presents this information to the public.  I would also love to say that I love the way his food tastes, but I can’t.  See – I’m a Canadian living in Dubai who has never had the chance to visit either the Fat Duck or the Hind’s Head.  So, I have to do the next best thing… watch Heston’s TV programs, read his recipe books, and dream of the day when my husband gives in to my incessant whining and takes me on a pilgrimage to Bray.


To be honest, up until about a year ago, I had only heard of Heston Blumenthal by way of food magazines and articles on (where he was normally mentioned in the same sentence as Ferran Adria and El Bulli).  I first saw his TV series, “In Search of Perfection” here in Dubai, and have only seen that series and one other “Kitchen Chemistry with  Heston Blumenthal”.  His other series have not yet aired here, and I’ve been a good girl and haven’t obtained them by “other” means.

When watching the shows, I was struck by Heston’s methods;  here’s a man who’s unafraid of hooking his wife’s kitchen fan to a grill in order to make it burn hotter, someone who would experiment with airbrushes, hairdryers, blowtorchs, and soda siphons in order to achieve the best version of a recipe.  It looks like a helluva lot of fun, and I learned a bunch of things as well.  However, the programs also set me to wondering:

  • Are his recipes really the pinnacle of perfection?  Really?
  • Who in their right mind, in their own house, lacking an experimental kitchen (or, to be honest, at times even a clean kitchen) would follow these recipes, when the tried and true methods take 1/4 of the time, 1/100 of the special ingredients, and taste… well… okay?
  • How can you possibly be expected to replicate these recipes in a place where you don’t have a neighbourhood fishmonger/butcher/chocolatier, where mail order deliveries of foodstuffs may be improbable, and your chances of getting locally sourced, organic, happy meat and vegetables are slim to none? 
  • Will my husband let me have a blowtorch?

I stayed wondering up until about a month ago when I ran out of reading material and we had to make an emergency trip to the local palace of books.  After I had run the gamut of my normal reading material (science fiction and fantasy – told you I was a geek), I had a browse through the cookbook section.  It was a quick browse, because my husband is an atrociously impatient shopper who had secured his pile of magazines and was ready to go.  So rather than having a leisurely gander about, I was instead told to “Get a bloody book by bloody Heston, there’s one right there, now let’s go, woman”.  So I bought  In Search of Total Perfection, took it home, read it that night, decided once again that Heston was a mad scientist/lunatic chef, then started thinking…

 Read part two