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Heston Blumenthal on how he crafts his highly sought, unparalleled culinary experiences

When Heston Blumenthal talks about food and flavours, his words are evocative enough to make you feel as though you’re experiencing everything he’s describing.

At the moment, he’s describing how he came to Delhi six years ago, the 35-degree heat hitting him along with the noise of honking cars, and sampled his first-ever paan. “The place was crowded, the smells not so great, and then — all of a sudden — the myriad flavours of the paan exploded in my mouth,” he remembers. “I was overwhelmed.”

Now in Mumbai, where we meet, he speaks as enthusiastically about the lamb biryani he had for lunch. “The moment when the purdah was cut open and the aroma wafted out — it will stay with me forever,” he says.

 Heston Blumenthal on how he crafts his highly sought, unparalleled culinary experiences

Heston Blumenthal

It was a similar moment that led Blumenthal down the path to becoming among the world’s best known celebrity chefs. On a family holiday in France, then 16-year-old Blumenthal was taken for a meal at the three Michelin starred restaurant L'Oustau de Baumanière; there, he was served leg of lamb — “it was wrapped in puff pastry and carved at the table. It came with some dauphinoise and green beans,” he says — a dish so good, it’s been imprinted in his memory ever since.

Blumenthal has been creating similar gastronomic memories for his many diners for several decades now — at The Fat Duck (his triple Michelin star restaurant in Berkshire), his pubs The Hinds Head and The Crown at Bray, and Dinner by Heston (in London and Melbourne).

Indian gourmands had an opportunity to sample Blumenthal’s culinary genius when he came here for the Masters of Marriott initiative; he enthralled them at an American Express, Private Centurion Lunch, as well as a ticketed dinner (priced at Rs 20,000 a head) in Mumbai and Delhi.

Among the culinary experiences he designed: An Earl Grey tea cloud, created right at the table through a cloud pourer — one got a whiff of a spray, before the dessert course of macerated strawberries arrived.

Also served were his famous lamb scotch egg, powdered duck breast and even a cauliflower risotto — all dishes that “showcase an element of the work done by my team and me in the last 20 years,” Blumenthal says. Yet another “showcase” is the roast scallop, scallop tartare, caviar and white chocolate velouté — a signature dish at The Fat Duck — of which Blumenthal notes:.

“We began serving white chocolate and caviar after the main course – neatly bridging the gap between savoury and sweet. Over the next 10 years, as The Fat Duck became better known, this dish seemed somewhat orthodox, and in any case the principles behind it had influences on other dishes, so I stopped serving it. Later I mentioned to my head chef Ashley (Palmer-Watts), that I would like to see the combination back on the menu, and he came up with this scallop dish, in which the marvelous frothy lightness of the velouté is a great counterpoint to the richness of the chocolate.”

A Blumenthal creation

A Blumenthal creation

His fans here of course wonder why it took so long for Blumenthal to come to India and cook. The wry response is: “The specific circumstances had to be right and it all fell into place now. I need to imagine, develop and create. If I were to accept every offer, I’d be travelling all the time. I need to protect my time to do things that are important to me. With 700 staff now, many of whom have been with me for over 10-15 years, I encourage them to experiment and grow and hence find it easier to take time off and travel.”

In Mumbai, Blumenthal visited the local vegetable markets to see what he could cook with. The “sights and smells” he says, stimulated his senses. Inspiration comes from several quarters, and an ingredient is not a single entity. “The invisible makes the visible. If you do something repeatedly, you are bound to view it differently and analyse it. You then ask questions, research to find answers and these answers lead to several new techniques emerging,” he says, explaining a little of his process.

Taste, of course, reigns paramount. “In the UK, we are all slaves of recipes, but taste is supreme. A chef must taste his food repeatedly. You can create new dishes only when you taste and exercise patience,” Blumenthal says.

The love for cooking, triggered by chance, has — Blumenthal says — “over the years got into my blood and beneath my skin and today, I am more than just a chef. I am evolving, but don’t know what this will lead to”. He adds: “But of course, what will never change for me, is cooking and eating food.”

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 09:48:14 IST