It’s time to go back to school with chef Heston Blumenthal, who teaches readers the history, the science, and even the psychology behind his cuisine in a new cookbook that has a big, fat price tag.
BRITISH CHEF HESTON BLUMENTHAL IS known for his kooky culinary combinations such as Sardine-on-Toast Sorbet and Hot and Iced Tea, which is split vertically in a glass and meant to be sipped at once. Sensory mix-ups like these helped his Berkshire, England, restaurant, the Fat Duck, earn three prestigious Michelin stars in 2004, just nine years after it opened, a feat practically unheard of in the restaurant industry.
In his new book, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook (Bloomsbury, $250), Blumenthal reveals the alchemical secrets behind those signature dishes as well as “the hurdles and the dead ends” he conquered to arrive at them. Blumenthal believes there is a science to good food, and he generously shares his findings with readers.
He knew he had to offer something beyond mere recipes and stunning photography (which, to be sure, he’s included plenty of) to justify such a hefty fee. And he doesn’t disappoint. The self-taught chef begins with an autobiography in which he highlights a seminal dining moment in his life: a meal at L’Oustau de Baumanière in the Provence region of France when he was 16 . He also spotlights 20 experts whom he consults often when crafting his cuisine; they range from a perfumer to a psychologist to the head of the UK Synaesthesia Association. Another section of the book deals with some of the specialty equipment found in his kitchen, including a lab-grade centrifuge used to create chocolate wine.
But Blumenthal doesn’t expect readers to invest in centrifuges of their own. Instead, he offers practical applications for his esoteric techniques. For example, he points to “ice filtration” -- freezing chicken stock in a fl at sheet and then letting the block melt through a perforated tray -- a process he claims yields “the most clear consommé you’ve ever seen.”
Blumenthal’s cerebral study has impressed upon him the notion that human connection and nostalgia are essential to the enjoyment of food -- hence his own yearning to one day return to the courtyard of that Provençal restaurant of his youth.
“We’ve got more tools today,” Blumenthal says, “but the general emotional drive to cook great food is still the same as it’s always been.”