Heston Blumenthal: The food alchemist

The British celebrity chef talks of mindful eating, the importance of water and the philosophy that leads him to believe that inspiration can come from everywhere

We have all seen his wildly imaginative creations set as a pressure test for unsuspecting MasterChef Australia participants — the 2018 finale featured a levitating dessert called Counting Sheep. We’ve watched him animatedly banter with the contestants, his eyes twinkling behind the trademark thick-framed glasses. In real life, Heston Blumenthal is all that and more. Blumenthal was visiting Mumbai (for the first time) as part of the Masters of Marriott initiative that brings world-renowned chefs to the country. He hosted two sold-out meals at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, featuring some of his signature dishes such as Lamb Scotch Egg, Roasted Scallops, Powdered Duck, and more. In his interview with MetroPlus, the British celebrity chef peppered us with quotable quotes, the conversation careening in rapid succession from food, mindful eating to existential musings.

Reading science

“I was rubbish at Science, in fact, I failed my Chemistry O levels,” laughed Blumenthal, a startling admission from a chef best known for his scientific approach to cooking. He’s pioneered techniques like ‘food pairing’ (the science behind what foods go well together). “We think of an apple as an apple; in fact, it contains hundreds of different elements that we can’t see. There are tiny molecules that give food its flavour. Subconsciously, I started looking at things in ever-increasingly smaller levels. This is exactly what Sadhguru’s book talks about, that the invisible makes the visible,” the chef elaborated.

Blumenthal is currently listening to an audio book by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and generously references it through our conversation. Another book that sparked his interest in the science of food many years ago was Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. “He said that searing meat does not seal in the juices, which went against everything I had read and learnt. It was like finding out Father Christmas wasn’t real! It changed my attitude towards cuisine and made me question everything,” he said, pointing to the coat of arms emblazoned on his T-shirt. Blumenthal was appointed an OBE in 2006, and in 2013, the College of Arms granted him a personal coat of arms printed with his motto ‘Question Everything’.

Universal inspiration

For Blumenthal, eating is one of the few activities human beings do that involves all the senses, so it’s natural that his inspiration comes from everywhere. “It could be anything, just watching the sunset, a leaf moving in the wind, a smell that reminds you of something, or a combination of these. Currently, for me, it’s two things — memory and nostalgia,” he said. He went on to narrate the experience that got him interested in cooking. “When I was 16, I went with my parents to France on a holiday and we ate at a Michelin-starred restaurant [L’Oustau de Baumanière]. It’s a meal that I remember vividly — it was set outside on a terrace, and the air was filled with the noise of crickets and the smell of lavender. I remember the waiter’s feet crunching on the gravel, him carving the lamb at the table, and the clink of glasses. It was like falling down a multi-sensory rabbit hole into this wonderland,” he shared.

Back to the future

The conversation then veered towards the future of food, “Frankly, we eat too much because we don’t value what we eat. We believe the bigger the plate the better the food. We need to be mindful of what we are eating. That will make an amazing difference to your health, and that’s the next phase of where we are heading,” declared Blumenthal. He cited Sadhguru again as he continued, “The more we are in touch with our internal universe, the more content we are with what we’ve got. If you eat less but value each mouthful, you’ll naturally eat healthier, and more importantly, happier.”

So what is he most excited to be working on next? The response was a series of ideas in typical Heston fashion: “Emotion, feeling, human connectivity, nostalgia, storytelling, and water,” he said. Blumenthal is currently setting up a research lab to work on the last bit, testing several avant-garde theories around light-energised water. “Water is in everything, every bit of food, every ingredient. It’s in every living thing; even our bodies are mostly water. Without water you can’t cook. I’m taking everything I have learnt over the past 25 years of cooking as my tool-kit, and I’m going back to the beginning,” he emphasised.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:14:18 PM |

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