WEIRD SCIENCE

He­ston Blu­men­thal is known for mak­ing crazy ideas come to life on the plate. So it should be no sur­prise that the chef who is a global sen­sa­tion now has his sights set on the uni­verse. DAN STOCK spoke with the culi­nary wizard

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Cover Feature - He­ston’s Feasts, He­ston’s Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble, He­ston’s Fan­tas­ti­cal Food),

He’s cre­ated gi­ant lol­lipops and lick­able wall­pa­per, cham­pi­oned ba­con ice cream and snail por­ridge, and dreamed up su­per­sized ver­sions of clas­sic treats. So is it any won­der that He­ston Blu­men­thal, the world’s most wildly in­no­va­tive chef, har­bours culi­nary ob­ses­sions that take him to a gal­axy far, far, away? The leap from gas­tron­omy to astronomy is an ob­vi­ous one for the brainiac Blu­men­thal. “I think there’s a thread that runs from the Big Bang, the plan­ets and Milky Way, through life on Earth and how that evolved, to our senses and emo­tions,” he says. “I’m de­vot­ing my whole life to this re­search.” From al­most any other chef, this might sound bonkers. But Blu­men­thal, 50, does things dif­fer­ently. And if you think that his fas­ci­na­tions have noth­ing to do with food, well, you’ve prob­a­bly never watched one of his tele­vi­sion shows (

or dined at one of his restau­rants. It’s at Din­ner by He­ston Blu­men­thal, at Crown Mel­bourne, where we meet. The hy­per­ac­tive chef is here for the restau­rant’s first an­niver­sary. But he has big­ger fish to fry. “I’ve been work­ing with an evo­lu­tion­ary ge­neti­cist, an­thro­pol­o­gist, cos­mol­o­gist, a pro­fes­sor of touch, build­ing this team to re­search,” he says. “I’m des­per­ately try­ing to tie the dots to­gether, to pull them into a lan­guage that peo­ple un­der­stand. My next book will touch on all this stuff.” Within He­ston Inc. they call it “play­ing in the sand­pit”. It’s where Blu­men­thal is free to go off on

He­ston Blu­men­thal ( left), and with right- hand man Ash­ley Palmer- Watts ( top right), and ( bot­tom right) meat fruit, one of the chef’s dishes con­sist­ing of chicken liver par­fait in a man­darin jelly “peel”.

which­ever tan­gents his in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity take him, but where the re­search al­ways con­tains an el­e­ment that will, even­tu­ally, lead back to food.

For it is food – and our re­la­tion­ship with it – that Blu­men­thal be­lieves de­fines us as be­ing hu­man. “It’s the one thing we con­sciously have to do to sur­vive,” he says, peer­ing through his trade­mark glasses. “Dis­cov­er­ing fire and eat­ing things cooked on it are the two main rea­sons we be­came homo sapi­ens. I want to find a way to show peo­ple the beauty of be­ing hu­man.”

So for the first time in a long time, Blu­men­thal has freed up his diary to pon­der th­ese lofty, ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions.

It’s been a fran­tic cou­ple of years for the chef who moved The Fat Duck restau­rant to the other side of the world – from Bray, 50km out­side Lon­don, to Mel­bourne, fur­ni­ture, staff and all – only to move it back six months later. Din­ner by He­ston Blu­men­thal took its place.

If there’s one thing the chef can’t be ac­cused of, it’s do­ing things by halves.

“I wouldn’t say it was the eas­i­est cou­ple of years of my life,” he says. “There was a lot go­ing on.”

As he was open­ing two of the world’s most talked-about restau­rants, he was also go­ing through a di­vorce from his wife of more than two decades, Zanna. Though the two sep­a­rated in 2011, the di­vorce and the com­pli­ca­tions of split­ting the busi­ness they built to­gether has only re­cently been fi­nalised. (While Blu­men­thal was then see­ing Amer­i­can cook­ery writer, Suzanne Pir­ret, the Bri­tish tabloids are now glee­fully cover­ing his pub­lic dis­plays of af­fec­tion with French real es­tate agent Stephanie Gou­veia.)

But that stress aside, The Fat Duck re­opened to uni­ver­sally rave reviews, and re­gained its three Miche­lin stars in Oc­to­ber.

“I don’t think any­one’s done that be­fore,” Blu­men­thal says of clos­ing and re­open­ing a restau­rant to equal ac­claim. The Fat Duck is now one of just four three Miche­lin-starred restau­rants in the UK.

At the same time, the GCSE (a UK high school qual­i­fi­ca­tion) he cre­ated in home eco­nomics was rolled out this year to praise from ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents.

“Cook­ing and eat­ing – it’s the only thing you can ap­ply to all the main sub­jects across the cur­ricu­lum,” he says.

Din­ner by He­ston Blu­men­thal, where his­tor­i­cal Bri­tish recipes are rein­ter­preted as mod­ern dishes, such as the fa­mous “meat fruit” – par­fait that’s dis­guised as a man­darin – has ce­mented it­self as one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing restau­rants. Last month, it was named num­ber one in the in­au­gu­ral de­li­cious.100 rank­ing of Vic­to­ria’s best 100 restau­rants.

And while it’s He­ston’s name on the door, it’s very much a part­ner­ship with right-hand man, Ash­ley Palmer-watts. The duo have worked to­gether for more than 20 years, first at The Fat Duck, then with Palmer-watts head­ing the kitchen at the orig­i­nal Din­ner in Lon­don and, now, at the sec­ond restau­rant in Aus­tralia.

“Fat Duck and Din­ner are like brother and sis­ter. They’re kind of the same, but they’re very dif­fer­ent,” Palmer-watts says. “I work with He­ston, and we have this in­nate trust in each other. It’s like be­ing mar­ried. I’ve worked with him for so long, it just works.”

And though the crazy idea to move The Fat Duck to Aus­tralia and then open Din­ner has been a suc­cess, the process took a toll on Blu­men­thal.

“I hadn’t thought through the de­tail the move needed,” he ad­mits. “But once the guys were here, the Duck needed more stuff and bet­ter equip­ment, so the run­ning costs went up and up. That cy­cle con­tin­ues; it just doesn’t stop.”

It’s al­most in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that the $525 a head (food only) at The Fat Duck in Aus­tralia didn’t cover costs, but such is the level of re­search and de­vel­op­ment that goes into the cre­ation of each Blu­men­thal dish. For the plea­sure of try­ing the multi-sen­sory Sound of the Sea dish, ni­tro­gen-poached cock­tails, and ba­con and eggs for dessert, more than 250,000 peo­ple en­tered a bal­lot for one of the cov­eted ta­bles over The Fat Duck’s six-month res­i­dency.

But that level of fame brings with it ever-grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, so the self­taught ex­pe­ri­en­tial chef has pared back com­mit­ments to al­low his cu­rios­ity space to travel down those tan­gents.

And if there’s one thing we can be sure of from the chef that con­ceives the im­pos­si­ble and then trans­forms it into mind-bend­ingly de­li­cious food, it’s that the un­ex­pected is pos­si­ble. If any­one can tie the Big Bang the­ory into cook­ing to then cre­ate the very best bis­cuit in the world, it’s him.

“If I can leave this world, even if it’s naught point naught naught naught 1 per cent, a hap­pier place, I would’ve done some­thing I’d be pretty pleased about. But even if I don’t, I’ll have a bloody good go at it.”

SPACE MAN

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