Flash in the pan
Chef Heston Blumenthal has always provided plenty of food for thought, even in space, writes Andrew Fenton
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
INSIDE HESTON’S WORLD, SBS, THURSDAY, 8.30PM
Heston Blumenthal has made a doco on moving his restaurant to