Revolutionary British chef Heston Blumenthal, who has just won his third Michelin star, has plans for yet more extraordinary flavour combinations.
The chef, who went from one star to three in a record five years, made his name with classic French dishes so perfectly prepared they quickly attracted a star following – and a range of dishes so bizarre they seemed almost cartoonish.
Decanter’s restaurant reviewer Brian St Pierre was the first to recognise Blumenthal’s genius, awarding him Restaurant of the Year in 1997.
At the restaurant, the Fat Duck in Bray, on the Thames just outside London, Blumenthal seduced diners with snail porridge, white chocolate and caviar buttons, sardine ice cream, green tea mousses frozen with liquid nitrogen, and cauliflower risotto with chocolate jelly.
But there is nothing odd about quality of the cooking. Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay regularly visit the Fat Duck, as does an endless stream of eager young cooks anxious to sit at the feet of the 37-year-old maestro.
Now the chef whom Michelin has honoured with the most coveted culinary accolade faster than any chef, ever, is not going to sit on his laurels.
‘It’s a very nice position to be in and long may it continue,’ he told decanter.com. ‘But we’re out of the comfort zone. It’s pressure from now on.’
Blumenthal, who attracts an excitable postbag as cookery writer for the Guardian, and who won a string of awards from the AA and the Good Food Guide, has a ‘list of improvements’ he and his wife Susanna want to make to the Fat Duck.
‘We need new tables for a start – they’re all wobbling. Then we’ve tweaked the front of house uniform to make it a bit smarter but not formal.’
He’s also ‘tweaking’ the wine list, and has some new menu ideas, including some extraordinary new examples of what he calls ‘molecular gastronomy’, the method by which he breaks flavour sensations down to their basic components – and recombines them to create what could be described as unconventional dishes.
‘I’m working to develop the tasting menu (the eight-course, four-hour gastronomic exploration that has contributed in large part to the Fat Duck’s fame) with dishes like orange and beetroot jelly – which is yellow beetroot juice and blood oranges, and truffle and oak puree with an oak film.’
This last is where Blumenthal the chemist takes over. ‘It’s a film, like the breath fresheners that dissolve on your tongue, only it’s made of oak. It fills your mouth with the taste of oak.’
Then there are the granules that make your mouth very cold, made from a menthol derivative. ‘You know that sensation when you put your toe under a cold tap and it feels hot? That’s what I’m aiming for.’
At the same time he is expanding the dishes on the classic a la carte menu to attract diners that may find the tasting menu ‘a bit long’.
‘There are going to be more things like the braised pork belly with macaroni and truffles, and tarte tatin. I want something for the regular customers who don’t want to be overly challenged.’
Above all, Blumenthal is aware of the excitement and spectacle involved in brilliant restaurant cooking. ‘Flavour perception and the combination of flavours, as well as dishes that satisfy your hunger in the best way, is the whole essence of the Fat Duck. And of course they want the theatre with it as well.’
Written by Adam Lechmere