The culture of sharing in the culinary world has been a long standing one. Whether passed down from generation to generation or simply from one culinary enthusiast to another, this tradition embodies the spirit of cooking and quite a few times is about carrying a legacy forward. Holding on to this spirit and culture of sharing is Michelin star chef Heston Blumenthal’s latest collaboration with Black & White, from the house of Diageo. The collaboration is aimed at inspiring people — with Blumenthal’s culinary innovations — to create and share their food and cocktail recipes to be featured in a unique Journal of Sharing. In this unique shared space with Blumenthal, contributors can share their personal recipes, experiences and experiments with food.
“The aim is to take the audience on a sensory voyage of flavors, memories, and emotions,” says Heston, whose select signature recipes — along with the creations of renowned Indian chefs and enthusiasts — will be seen in the Journal of Sharing.
While the journal will be an online one, patrons will also have a chance to get their hands on a limited edition package — Chef Heston Blumenthal’s Secret Recipe Journal – entailing his curation of exclusive cocktail recipes and food masterpieces along with a bottle of Black & White Scotch whisky. Scanning the QR code on the package will extend the experience onto the website and will eventually enable patrons to upload their photo and recipe contributions. The journal can be accessed at socialgoat.in/BlackAndWhiteJournalOfSharing. We recently caught up with Blumenthal, excerpts below:
Where and how did your culinary journey begin?
When I was sixteen I went on holiday with my parents to the South of France to L’Oustau De Baumaniere, a restaurant in the town of Les Baux De Provence, which is still open. Back then in the early 80s it had 3 Michelin stars and was the first restaurant like that I had ever been to. Usually, we went on holiday in the UK and ate fish and chips on the beach or sandwiches in the back of the car. But here they parked the car for you and you walked up these huge steps to the courtyard. There was crunching gravel and the smell of rosemary … I can remember it vividly still. It was like an enchanted woodland. The waiters had these huge moustaches and were carving legs of lamb at the table side. It was incredible and just blew me away. SO many sights, smells and sounds, I thought it was wonderful and I knew then I wanted to do that. I had fallen down a rabbit hole into a multisensory wonderland. At the time I couldn’t even cook but it set me on my way.
How did the idea of molecular and sensory gastronomical experiences come about?
Molecular and sensory gastronomy are very different. I was one of the first chefs to really use all the senses in the dining room so it grew out of an understanding and curiosity on my part to see the effect you could have on diners when you brought all the senses into play. Not just smell and taste but sight, sound and touch, all of them in different ways effect flavour and I discovered ways to use them and create experiences for people as they ate. Molecular Gastronomy came out of research I had begun into the physicist Nicholas Kurti, his 1969 lecture entitled ‘The Physicist in the Kitchen’ has been the very beginning of a renewed interest in the science of cooking. Sadly, I never met him as he passed away before I could but I did meet his wife. They used to run scientific conferences around food and cooking as he was very interested in it. They needed names like Molecular and Physical Gastronomy in order to get funding and resources. So the idea that molecular gastronomy was an intentional creation of anyone is incorrect, just a banner under which some of us were held. It never really described what I was doing properly. Now I would call my cooking Quantum Gastronomy as it has many more aspects to it than just molecules. I think Nicholas would approve and maybe would have helped organise a conference with me.
Can you take us through the process — ideas to real execution?
If it was that easy it wouldn’t have taken me 25 years to create some of my dishes. Each one is very different. There is no roadmap to creativity, inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. Some of the dishes, like snail porridge for example, have quite a simple journey. That was about the name first of all and how my head chef, Garry, had mentioned a fish porridge he had eaten in Hong Kong and it made me think about the effect names have on our experience of food. I wanted to explore that with snails, an ingredient I knew people found challenging. So I developed a dish with essentially very classical flavours but used a bed of oats with parsley and garlic, butter and so on but gave it a name that challenged people’s perception and expectation. Snails are purged on oats before you eat them so the connection made sense to me at the time. Visually it had to look like a green grassy field with snails and then it was about finesse and detail. It didn’t take that long whereas something like Sound of the Sea where we use sound as a flavour sense to create a nostalgic context to the dish. That took a long time to get right and began when I visited the Crossmodal Research Laboratory Oxford to meet Charles Spence. I felt what impact sound had on flavour and texture perception but wanted to take it much much further. That dish really took a leap of faith to put in front of people.
What do you find the most interesting about Indian cuisine?
The many varied flavours and regional differences. It’s so different from British and French cuisines. The colours and textures too. Also, there are so many vegetable dishes which I love. At the Fat Duck we often use vegetables as the centre piece as I don’t see them as any less valuable to the kitchen as meat. So I enjoy exploring all the wonderful and delicious ways Indian cooks use them and present them. I also love the tandoor as a cooking device. I once made one in the car park in Bray using a road digger. It was quite something and made quite a mess but the naans we made were incredible. That heat and smoke makes such a delicious result. I must have my naan as fresh as possible from the oven. At my favourite restaurant in Cookham, near The Fat Duck, called Maliks they know me so well that my naan are always hot and fresh, just the way I want them!
What’s your favourite meal to cook for your family?
I don’t have a favourite, but I do like sharing so I like large dishes that people can help themselves too. At home I cook things like ratatouille or sharing joints of meat. I also love to barbecue and cook outside. The range of outdoor ovens I developed with Everdure are built around the principle of being connected with the heat of the oven and cooking over the naked flame. I also make tart Tatin, a dish with very few ingredients, five or so, which just require your attention and skill to bring together.
What do you think is common across the globe when it comes to food?
Well, we all have to eat every day so it is important to all of us. I think what we share globally is an understanding of the importance of sharing food and eating/cooking together. This was the idea behind the Black and White Journal of Sharing. We wanted a place for people to connect and come together through the joy of food and drink. The recipes we have created, and the cocktails too are there to inspire and begin others on a journey of their own. All people like to cook and eat together if they can, that is what enables us to share the joy in our creations.
What’s the most peculiar thing you’ve cooked or eaten till date?
Well, I have cooked almost everything and anything the world has to offer from fermented shark to crocodile to turtles. I’ve eaten insects and live mackerel all in the name of curiosity and research. Most recently I tried the canned fermented fish from Sweden called Surströmming, it wasn’t pleasant but I do believe though that no food is inherently disgusting or simply it wouldn’t be food. Somebody must have liked it enough for others to try it. Mark Twain wrote ‘brave was he who first ate the oyster’ I would probably have been that man. Someone has to go first and I am always curious about what things taste like.