Flash in the pan

Chef He­ston Blu­men­thal has al­ways pro­vided plenty of food for thought, even in space, writes Andrew Fen­ton

Herald Sun - Switched On - - COVER STORY -

He­ston Blu­men­thal’s food is out of this world. It’s only fit­ting then the 49-year-old has be­come the first celebrity chef to travel to the edge of space and cook din­ner for an as­tro­naut.

Blu­men­thal’s space flight was dur­ing his as­tro­naut train­ing — a zero grav­ity ride on a “vomit comet” — and he sat down to have din­ner with Bri­tish as­tro­naut Ma­jor Tim Peake on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion via video link in Jan­uary. The pair chowed down on the chef’s spe­cially cre­ated beef stew and truf­fles.

“I was in the con­trol cen­tre in Mu­nich talk­ing to Tim up in space, which it­self was bizarre be­cause there was a 20 sec­ond lag, and then we ate the food to­gether, which was quite amaz­ing,” he says.

Blu­men­thal had “a cup of tea up there” dur­ing his zero grav­ity flight. “My legs didn’t work too well af­ter­wards but I didn’t vomit.”

Like many of his crazy schemes, his two-year project to de­sign food for the UK Space Agency (in­clud­ing the world’s most com­pli­cated space ba­con sand­wich) was cap­tured in a doco, He­ston’s Din­ner In Space.

It’s a good ex­am­ple of how the chef, who wanted to be an as­tro­naut grow­ing up, uses TV work to pur­sue and finance his in­ter­ests, from re­search­ing and rein­vent­ing his­toric dishes in He­ston’s Great Bri­tish Food and He­ston’s Feasts to creat­ing su­per­size child­hood clas­sics in He­ston’s Fan­tas­ti­cal Feasts.

“I’ve used TV over the years as a mech­a­nism for re­search and devel­op­ment,” he says. “It gives you a time­line, dead­lines and a sub­ject to work on.”

But Blu­men­thal’s grown tired of spend­ing 90 days or more film­ing six-episode se­ries. “I’d just had enough of the time it soaked up,” he says.

“So I made a con­scious ef­fort to stop that and look more a doc­u­men­tary style. And that’s when we started talk­ing about the whole restau­rant move.”

Blu­men­thal’s lat­est four-part se­ries, Inside He­ston’s World, is a fly on the wall doc­u­men­tary culled from hun­dreds of hours of footage de­tail­ing his sig­na­ture restau­rant’s six­month move to Aus­tralia last year. It was a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing, shift­ing 50 staff and all the crock­ery and cut­lery from his three Miche­lin star restau­rant in Bray, 17,000km across the other side of the planet to Mel­bourne.

It cost tens of millions of dol­lars and threw up some unique chal­lenges: Where do you buy 64,000 snails to make por­ridge and how do you get them through quar­an­tine?

The move was first mooted more than a decade ago when it be­came clear The Fat Duck needed ren­o­vat­ing. There was just a sin­gle door for pa­trons, staff and de­liv­er­ies, a tiny kitchen and it may have been the only Miche­lin starred restau­rant in his­tory with an out­side dunny. With work ex­pected to take six months, he be­gan to look for a tem­po­rary home, ex­am­in­ing var­i­ous sites in Las Ve­gas, Sin­ga­pore, Dubai and New York be­fore set­tling on Mel­bourne. His TV work led him to be a reg­u­lar here — an­other culi­nary spin-off from MasterChef Aus­tralia on which he’s ap­peared since sea­son 2.

Blu­men­thal at­tributes the show’s pop­u­lar­ity to “creat­ing the big­gest food ex­plo­sion I’ve ever seen in a coun­try in such a short pe­riod of time”, and he gave last year’s win­ner Bil­lie McKay a job at the Fat Duck. She’s just re­turned home to start her own place — “and I shall be mon­i­tor­ing that very care­fully”, he grins.

His bur­geon­ing pro­file here saw him se­cure part­ner­ships with Coles and Bre­ville, and Crown Casino of­fered him a venue for the Fat Duck and now Din­ner — his first per­ma­nent restau­rant out­side the UK.

The doco it­self was be­gun be­fore SBS snapped up the rights. Blu­men­thal, who was work­ing 22 hours a day dur­ing the move, says the cam­eras weren’t al­ways wel­come.

“There are mo­ments when you’re in the mid­dle of do­ing some­thing, and some­one asks you a ques­tion and you just have to say: look, I can’t.”

Long­time pub­li­cist Mon­ica Brown says they weren’t ex­pect­ing such a huge level of in­ter­est, nor the front page news over the scalp­ing scandal cor­rupt­ing the 250,000 ap­pli­ca­tions for book­ings.

“We came to re­alise that no restau­rant on the planet can live up the ex­pec­ta­tion level,” she says. “So that was pres­sure.” But it’s no spoiler to re­veal The Fat Duck be­came one of the big­gest epi­curean events in Aus­tralia for some time.

“For me it was a big year, with­out sound­ing too spir­i­tual about it, I went on a real jour­ney of dis­cov­ery of my­self,” he says.

“I’ve used TV over the years as a mech­a­nism”

HE­STON ON HIS AP­PROACH TO THE

SMALL SCREEN

INSIDE HE­STON’S WORLD, SBS, THURS­DAY, 8.30PM

He­ston Blu­men­thal has made a doco on mov­ing his restau­rant to

Aus­tralia.

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