Bray, England, United Kingdom

26 Mar

Heston Blumenthal – Curiosity and crab ice cream

To truly understand Heston Blumenthal’s idea of multi-sensory dining we need to go back to when Heston first started to realise all sorts of things could affect how food tasted. At sixteen years old he was obsessed with the great French chefs, translating them word by word with nothing more than a pen, some paper and a French to English dictionary. ‘I saw that each of these cookbooks had a recipe for vanilla ice cream, but they all varied – some would use whole eggs, some just the yolk; some used cream, others used milk, a few mascarpone; then there was glucose or sugar – the list went on,’ he explains. ‘Were these just the recipes the chefs had learnt during their studies, or was there a reason for the different ingredients and ratios? I started trying to develop my own recipe for the perfect vanilla ice cream and came across a Victorian recipe for asparagus ice cream, and then later a Sicilian one for Parmesan ice cream. Why did these sound weird? I thought it must be because we think of ice cream as something sweet.’

Heston didn’t realise how important this little detail was until 1997, a few years after he opened The Fat Duck. ‘I made a crab ice cream to go with a crab risotto,’ he says. ‘Some people absolutely loved it and others thought I was the devil. But I discovered if I called it a frozen crab bisque, people were much more likely to enjoy it.’ This eventually led Heston to write his first research paper with Martin Yeomans at the University of Sussex, where they discovered that people found a frozen smoked salmon mousse tasted up to twenty percent saltier if it was called smoked salmon ice cream. ‘I thought, hang on a second, you can change how a dish tastes just by calling it something different? And that’s when my mind started to properly think about multi-sensory dining.’

This realisation, combined with what Heston read in Harold McGee’s seminal book On Food and Cooking, led to the simple motto he now uses to describe his approach to food – question everything. ‘I needed to look at everything differently,’ he says. ‘I started investigating how the senses can influence one another and realised that eating is a complete multi-sensory experience that’s all about awareness of what’s going on around you. Just the font used on a wine label can change the taste of what’s inside. It wasn’t until around two years ago that scientists really started to look at food and eating as a multi-sensory thing, and it’s had a huge impact on that world already.’

‘No one had talked about incorporating smell, sound and sight into a restaurant before, and I knew it wasn’t just a case of spraying a scent over a dish,’ he says. ‘It’s the noise in the background, the temperature of the room, the lighting and how all this relates to an individual person. The frustration with multi-sensory dining is that you have your idea of the perfect ice cream that you had as a kid on holiday or whatever, but it won’t be the same as mine. I realised that all the work I did with sous vide, pairing ingredients with similar flavour molecules and playing with nostalgia were the building blocks of my food, but what was missing was the personalisation. That’s why I see this chapter of The Fat Duck as the beginning and the past twenty years I’ve been completing my apprenticeship. Where we’ve got to today is the result of years and years of work, and you’re going to start to see it all being implemented at The Fat Duck from now.’

Tom Shingler. (2017, February 22). What’s next for Heston Blumenthal]. Retrieved from

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