Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Food Josh Bar­low Pho­tog­ra­phy Aaron Mclean

Kelli Brett takes world­fa­mous chef Heston Blumenthal out for lunch

WHEN THE TEXT CAME from The Su­gar Club ex­ec­u­tive chef Josh Bar­low at 2am, “Does Heston have any di­etary re­quire­ments?” I re­alised, that in the mad panic to get my mitts on Heston, I’d for­got­ten to ask. Surely not?

How hard can this be? Heston is es­corted in, mi­cro­phones and cam­eras are put in place and he launches into a fas­ci­nat­ing story about a frog who needs to think to breathe. “I think we take our breath for granted.” On that note, my painstak­ingly crafted ques­tions are all dis­carded, but for­tu­nately Josh ar­rives with our snacks...

Home­made pringle with cured ha­puka roe tara­masalata, smoked with manuka Kaipara oys­ter cream in­side pearl bar­ley wafers, topped with bronzed fen­nel and wild scampi caviar

Green pea wafer, dry aged Wyld lamb, smoked Lot Eight olive oil

Per­haps the idea of record­ing an in­ter­view over lunch was a bad one. How could I eat that crispy, home­made pringle with­out drown­ing Heston out? “What do you cure it in?” Heston asks. “Salt and su­gar,” replies Josh. Thank God, Josh then bravely went on to in­tro­duce his clever oys­ter sand­wich, as my tongue is still stuck to the roof of my mouth, cour­tesy of the pringle. Then they’re off, two chefs ea­ger to talk and cu­ri­ous. Josh ex­plains his rule-break­ing process of throw­ing the oys­ters into the blender, adding shal­lots and Cham­pagne and fold­ing through whipped cream. Heston laughs, “See, I love that. I think we’ve be­come less hu­man and more ro­botic in restaurants. We should all just chuck it in the blender.”

We im­merse our­selves in that briny, creamy, ocean sand­wich. The scampi caviar scat­tered on top has vivid tones of elec­tric blue and I have to ask why. Heston’s first the­o­ries in­volve pho­to­syn­the­sis and chloro­plasts. I de­cide to skill­fully steer the con­ver­sa­tion away from this dan­ger­ously sci­en­tific area by ask­ing him not to use the word cyanobac­te­ria in front of me ever again.

When I ask him if he takes a stand on not serv­ing cer­tain species, he points out that he stopped serv­ing Mediter­ranean cod about 18 years ago. He stresses the im­por­tance for hu­man be­ings to be­come aware of be­ing aware.

I ask about his per­cep­tion of New Zealan­ders and our at­ti­tude to­wards food. “I love that if you want to drink Nescafé or have a cap­puc­cino at lunchtime, you do it, be­cause it tastes good and makes you happy. You don’t ap­pear to be as judge­men­tal about food here. An­other thing to cel­e­brate in New Zealand is that you are still con­nected to your food. If you work to get your food it be­comes a thing of value.”

The Vegemite vs Mar­mite de­bate has to be had with the next dish. Sadly Heston prefers Mar­mite.

Heston ea­gerly eyes the plates and then looks at Josh. “This has all been fan­tas­tic buddy, so fan­tas­tic.”

Garage Pro­ject pale ale bread with whipped Mar­mite but­ter

In re­sponse to a ques­tion about the cur­rent role of women in hos­pi­tal­ity, Heston says he thinks men are kind of los­ing their way in mod­ern so­ci­ety. My cue to jump in, “So are you say­ing it’s our time?” “Yes,” he replies. “With­out a shadow of a doubt. Male en­ergy is more bi­nary, fe­male en­ergy is more cre­ative. Women have con­stantly had to come up with ways to keep the next gen­er­a­tion pro­tected. And women have de­vel­oped a much more acute sys­tem of smell, which leads me to this bar­be­cue I’ve been work­ing on...” I think I may have just been ma­nip­u­lated. “Men went out and bashed their chest and went hunt­ing, so men have a bet­ter sense of di­rec­tion than fe­males. But we don’t need to do that any­more be­cause we have a GPS.” I won­der if I should tell him that I had to change the voice on my GPS to fe­male as I couldn’t bear to have a man tell me where to go. I do how­ever raise the fact that it irks me that at our home bar­be­cues I do all of the prep, the sal­ads, the dress­ings and the mari­nades. I roast gar­lic and whip it through crushed can­nellini beans and add feta and fresh sage and smear it onto crispy home­baked cros­tini, then the hus­band turns up for the fi­nal mo­ments, turn­ing the skew­ers and flip­ping the steaks and he gets all of the credit. “Yes, that is ex­actly it. The hunter swans in and makes a fire, while the woman picks berries. It’s time for change. How­ever, I need to tell you there is a dan­ger here that by de­vel­op­ing this ver­sa­tile bar­be­cue range we (men) will be­come ex­empt.”

The Ever­dure range by Heston Blumenthal is be­ing called the per­fect mod­ern bar­be­cue op­tion. His new baby, the 4K is de­scribed as the Miche­lin star of bar­be­cues. There seems to be noth­ing this baby can’t do. Smok­ing, roast­ing, grilling, pizza, desserts. It has a built-in probe that tells you not only the in­ter­nal bar­be­cue tem­per­a­ture but the tem­per­a­ture of what you are cooking. AND you can con­trol it with your mo­bile phone.

As we are dis­cussing the lat­est in in­no­va­tion, the most beau­ti­fully cooked as­para­gus dish qui­etly ar­rives.

Con­fit or­ganic as­para­gus from Cam­bridge, na­tive NZ spinach, miso hol­landaise, puffed quinoa and white sesame seeds

Heston stops eat­ing to wipe his head. “I have a sweaty head. I’m not sure how busy any­one else’s head is, but the faster my brain goes, the hot­ter my head gets.” An ADHD di­ag­no­sis a few years ago brought wel­come in­sight for Heston. He says his ADHD is ex­treme and yet the di­ag­no­sis en­abled him to be able to un­der­stand the why. To be in­creas­ingly aware of be­com­ing aware. “Who knows where it will take me, but it’s ex­cit­ing and I wouldn’t change anything.” I sug­gest that his con­di­tion has been a big part of what has driven his fo­cus and his suc­cess and won­der how he has coped with the pres­sure cooker of high ex­pec­ta­tion that comes with be­ing named the world’s best. “You know, per­fec­tion comes from a Greek word that means com­plete. I’ve been awarded best chef in the world, world’s best res­tau­rant. If you get a mark of ten out of ten, that is sup­posed to mean you are com­plete. But that’s not emo­tional! Food should al­ways bring a con­nec­tion with our emo­tions. The World’s 50 Best [Res­tau­rant Awards] be­gan with ask­ing 20 chefs to list their favourites. And look what it has be­come! Can you imag­ine how a kitchen full of people, that have worked their socks off to get to num­ber 42 on that list, feel when the next year, they are not in the top 50? That can be dev­as­tat­ing. It is so flip­pant. So un­con­nected.”

I get that, but I also know that the in­dus­try needs feedback and recog­ni­tion to be able to evolve. We talk about our Cuisine Good Food Awards and I ask Heston how we can do it bet­ter. He replies that in his opin­ion Miche­lin is more rel­e­vant. One star is wor­thy of a

stop, two stars are wor­thy of a de­tour and three stars are wor­thy of a jour­ney. But Miche­lin doesn’t ever say that three is bet­ter than one. “It’s just that you can go to a one star more of­ten be­cause you have to work less for your re­ward.”

I ven­tured that I some­times feel that the two stars are where the most ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and risks are be­ing taken, and of­ten where you see the most cre­ativ­ity, whereas with a three-star res­tau­rant there is no room for mis­takes and they must de­liver the com­plete seam­less pack­age. Heston agreed. “Ex­actly! And then fear of fail­ure starts to creep in and it starts to take over.”

Josh ap­pears with our main course and Heston ea­gerly eyes the plates and then looks at Josh. “This has all been fan­tas­tic buddy, so fan­tas­tic.”

Hawkes Bay Wagyu hanger steak, from a col­lec­tive of farm­ers called ‘First Light’, smoked bone mar­row sauce, wild gar­lic gre­mo­lata and pick­led crosnes

Josh tells us his wife picked the wild gar­lic on Fri­day morn­ing and hap­pily dropped it into The Su­gar Club kitchen, as the drive pro­vides a pre­cious hour for their baby to sleep soundly in the car. Heston is de­lighted by this. “Great ideas can evolve via ne­ces­sity. That’s how lots of good things start to hap­pen!” Talk­ing about the fear of fail­ure has ob­vi­ously struck a chord with Heston as he takes us right back to it… “When we re-did The Fat Duck, which is still not done by the way, in the end I was scream­ing at my­self. I re­alised that I’d cre­ated such a lin­ear, pre­ci­sion kitchen that the team couldn’t be cre­ative. It was ul­ti­mately my re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause they didn’t want to fail. Fear of fail­ure.”

Our last course is brought to the ta­ble.

Kaik­oura fro­mage blanc, burnt white choco­late, Seville or­ange, con­densed milk sor­bet

Josh calls it, “kind of like an ice-cream sand­wich” and is stoked to see Heston dive in with his fin­gers. I’m con­scious of the cam­eras and re­mark that Heston ob­vi­ously has a big­ger mouth than mine. Heston in­sists that ev­ery hu­man be­ing has the ca­pac­ity to open their jaw to the width of their own three mid­dle fin­gers. Un­for­tu­nately, the video cam­era doesn’t stop while Josh and I ex­per­i­ment with this the­ory.

I ask Heston if he feels that the per­ceived value of food is di­min­ish­ing and chal­leng­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of our res­tau­rant in­dus­try. “We ex­pect to pay more for our houses and our cars but ex­pect our food to be cheaper. How does that work? Say you buy a chicken, build a pen, sell some eggs, even­tu­ally kill the chicken, pluck the chicken, clean and gut the chicken, pack­age the chicken, trans­port the chicken... How much money would you want for do­ing all of that? We should be pay­ing more for our food and eat­ing less! Let’s say we paid 20% more and ate 30% less. Then we would value what we eat. We don’t have to climb a moun­tain any­more to get wa­ter or fight an an­i­mal to the death to feed our kids. When we were hunter-gath­er­ers we worked to­gether, col­lec­tively, to sur­vive. Then we moved to farm­ing and we owned things we could po­ten­tially lose. Nowa­days, hu­man be­ings have be­come scared of los­ing stuff. If you’re pre­pared to lose ev­ery­thing for what you be­lieve in, won­der­ful things can start to hap­pen.”

All in all, I get a sense that Heston is re-ex­plor­ing his pri­or­i­ties. In his own words, he is re­verse en­gi­neer­ing his life; liv­ing in Provence where he was first in­spired to cook and set­ting up a re­search lab; fix­ated on un­der­ground wa­ter, grow­ing mush­rooms, fish­ing and want­ing to make wine. A top pri­or­ity has be­come sneak­ing but­ter onto bread for baby daugh­ter She (pro­nounced Shay) when mum Steph is not look­ing. Gone are the days of Heston the ham­ster on the wheel and his end­less race to per­form. Slowly di­min­ish­ing is the con­stant fear of fail­ure and re­jec­tion.

Heston says he has fi­nally be­come self-aware of be­ing self-aware.

Heston can fi­nally love Heston.

I love that...

Hear the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion on our new pod­cast, Cuisine Bites (see p 12).

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