TV: Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection
Just by coincidence, the day that we visited The Fat Duck, its chef/owner Heston Blumenthal's new series on BBC Two premiered. Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection is an idiosyncratic 30 minute show that showcases his quirky personality and cooking style perfectly.
The purported aim of the show is to recreate some classic British dishes. At the start of each episode he declares that he disagrees with people who call his style of cooking "molecular gastronomy". He says it's just "good old-fashioned cooking". Well, if using liquid nitrogen for instant-freezing ice cream, using elaborate scientific equipment at a university laboratory to analyze the makeup of the flavors of golden syrup, and making aerated chocolate using a whipped cream bottle (the kind you insert CO2 capsules into), a Space Saver Bag and a Dyson vacuum cleaner is old-fashioned cooking, I guess he lives about 200 years in the future. Or on another planet. He doesn't really look like a scientist, but rather like a nerdy kid with square glasses who likes to experiment with his chemistry kit, and who never quite grew up. He has a quiet sense of joy in what he does that's really fun to watch.
His assertions about all the recipes being recipes that he 'wants you to attempt at home' aside (we roll on the floor, or in my case the sofa since I'm suffering from a streaming cold at the moment, whenever he says this), the show is really entertaining, and I think does give some insight into how the molecular-gastronomy approach to fine cooking works. In the second episode which aired last night, he went about de-constructing what makes a Black Forest gateau, and then re-constructing it step by step: chocolate layers in two different textures, kirsch-flavored cream, sour cherries. The final touch, he said, was to spray the air just before eating the gateau with some kirsch. It may all seem a bit ridiculous, but it does make sense: we don't just eat with our mouths, we eat with our eyes and our noses too.
It's also about obtaining the finest ingredients possible - something that home cooks may aspire to, but not always be able to achieve. In the first episode, he puts together 'bangers and mash' (a classic British dish of sausages with onion gravy and mashed potatoes). He finds the finest pork from an old fashioned kind of pig whose meat tastes like apples. Though, I have the say the one thing about those bangers that had all my friends who had watched the episode chortling in disbelief was the toast water. (He makes some toast, then soaks it in water to obtain 'toast water', which is added to the sausage meat. The toast is then discarded, and he adds rusks, which are sort of like dry toast anyway, as filler.)
Anyway, if you're in the UK or have access to BBC Two (in Switzerland it is in the Digital package offered by love/hated Cablecom), be sure not to miss the rest of the episodes. Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection airs on Tuesdays at 8pm British/9pm Central European time. If you live elsewhere be sure to look out for this on your local BBC outlet. The web site has some clips from the show, and there is a companion book out in both the U.S. and the UK.