Features / EAST MEETS HEST
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EAST MEETS HEST

Famed for his snail porridge and other whacky recipes, top British chef Heston Blumenthal tells Crave about his latest project…and why he thinks it may soon transfer to Hong Kong.

Text by Oliver Wadeson

Heston Blumenthal is reminiscing about his one and only trip to Hong Kong when he lets me in on a little secret.

It is news every city in the world has been waiting to hear since this eccentrically brilliant chef burst onto the British culinary scene in 1995 when he opened The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray in Berkshire, England.

Blumenthal, 43, who, unlike his fellow British superchefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, has never publicly expressed a wish to open restaurants overseas, plans to open an outlet in Hong Kong.

“I was in Hong Kong about five years ago. I flew in having been in Tokyo, where I was in talks about opening a Fat Duck at the Mandarin Oriental there,” he tells me.

“It was a whistlestop tour – I stayed for two days. I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Central and there was talk of opening a Fat Duck there too.

“I absolutely loved Hong Kong. It was so vibrant. I had a fantastic meal at the restaurant at the top of the Mandarin. I also remember going to markets and going to other hotels to see what they were doing. I’d love to go back.

“At the time I didn’t have the infrastructure to open a Fat Duck there. I needed my staff in England. I needed my strong people with me in England.

“But now I have a new concept, which I am doing with a restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in London and if we get it right there I think it would work well in Hong Kong. The city still has strong ties with Britain and I think you would really like the idea there.”

“But now I have a new concept, which I am doing with a restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in London and if we get it right there I think it would work well in Hong Kong. The city still has strong ties with Britain and I think you would really like the idea there.”

For those familiar with Blumenthal’s meteoric rise, this “new concept” is quite a departure from the radical brand of cuisine that established his reputation. With no formal training besides a week in a kitchen run by legendary French chef Raymond Blanc, Blumenthal’s approach to cooking has embraced techniques more associated with the science laboratory than those learned at the stove.

A proponent of the low-temperature, slow-cooking and sous-vide techniques (cooking in a vacuum), his brand of cuisine owes as much to food science than culinary traditions. Signature dishes at The Fat Duck include such novelties as bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge.

As word of his revolutionary approach at his Bray restaurant spread, the plaudits soon followed thick and fast. In 2004, The Fat Duck was awarded three Michelin stars and a year later it was proclaimed the best restaurant in the world by an academy comprising 600 international food critics, journalists and chefs. Since then only Spain’s El Bulli has knocked it off this hallowed perch.

But now it is time for a new challenge and, as Blumenthal explains, his new concept involves more history than science.

“It is based on historical British recipes. I have consulted with historians from different eras and researchers who have studied archives to come up with recipes that are based on what people in different ages used to eat,” he says.

One of the dishes he will produce he describes as a “meat fruit” and is based on an English recipe from the Tudor or 16th century age and developed for the modern palate.

“It consists of veal and pork rolled into a ball and roasted on a spit served with a savoury custard,” says Blumenthal. “Or another is a parfait of chicken livers coated with a jelly made of mandarin flesh and skin. Even on really close inspection it looks like a fruit when it is served.”

Blumenthal sees returning to the past as a recurrent theme in future gastronomic trends. ‘‘Cooking is an evolutionary process,’’ he says. “You can plot it, from what you have today to the nouvelle cuisine of the Seventies and further back from there. You go right back to these techniques and add your personality to it; in this way you are combining the past with the future.’’

Back to the present and Blumenthal is hoping 2010 will bring unqualified success – without any blemishes, such as 2009’s food poisoning scare at The Fat Duck when the restaurant was closed for a month after 400 customers were found to have come down with food poisoning.

Sabotage by jealous rivals was suspected initially but a contaminated batch of oysters were later found to be responsible. The Fat Duck was absolved of blame – by both its insurers and the local food inspection teams – but Blumenthal remains indignant about the bad publicity it generated.

“It affected the whole area,” he says. “The problem was either to do with the oyster suppliers or the water authorities. We got all the bad coverage but a lot of restaurants were affected. But when we reopened we were fully booked immediately.

“It was a mixed year. That happened at the beginning of the year but then we were given a 10 out of 10 rating by the Good Food Guide.”

Heston Blumenthal at London’s Mandarin Oriental opens in November. Let’s hope it goes well – if it does we could soon see this fantastically original chef in Hong Kong.

My Favourite Things with Heston Blumenthal

1. Favourite city for food?
It has to be Tokyo – for the sushi markets, seaweed shops and if you just want something quick and simple, for sitting on an upturned beer crate eating the best teriyaki.

2. Favourite restaurant?
Malik’s tandoori in Berkshire, England. I go to this Indian takeaway at least once a week. It serves the most wonderful naan bread – so beautifully light.

3. Comfort food?
It would either be a really good hamburger, or a prawn cocktail that would remind me of my childhood.

4. Best way to cook chicken?
Put a whole chicken in brine for about six hours. Open the legs – never cook trussed as it doesn’t spread the heat properly – and stuff it with lemon and thyme. Cook in an oven set at 60 degrees celsius for four hours followed by 15 minutes at 60 degrees. Then take it out and rest it for 90 minutes. Turn oven up to 190 degrees and put it in for five minutes to make it golden.

5. Last meal before execution?
A Sunday lunch with my family. It doesn’t matter what meat but it would have to include roast potatoes.

6. Which famous person would you like to dine with?
Too difficult a question – but I am actually meeting Prince Charles later this morning for a charity function.



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