Heston Blumenthal is one of the most maverick chefs in the world today. His creations popularised the short-lived trend around molecular gastronomy even as his three-Michelin star restaurant The Fat Duck continues to get rave reviews for its stellar creations, more than 25 years after it first opened its doors.
In an exclusive interview with Gurgl, the British chef opens up on the next stage of his culinary endeavour with quantum gastronomy, his latest collaboration with Black & White Scotch Whisky even as he spills the beans about his first-ever bar opening in Dubai this year. Excerpts below:
- Tell us how the ‘The Journal of Sharing’ initiative with Black & White Scotch came about?
The Journal of Sharing came through discussions and work with the team at Diageo in India. We both believe that the real power of food and drink is in connecting people to themselves first and then others around them through shared experiences. So, we wanted to create a place where we could show people the wonderful sensorial adventures they could have with the product and give them a platform to share those moments and inspire each other. The team in the UK and I developed some cocktails and pairing recipes to start things off, but the real intention is for everyone to have their own journal within ours full of their own discoveries and thoughts.
- What are your views on Scotch whisky in general and Black & White Scotch in particular?
I have always been interested in whisky. A few years ago, we developed a dish at the Fat Duck involving jellies made from various whiskies which captured their different flavours. Each area in Scotland created a different flavour profile, some very peaty or smoky, others full of caramel and honey flavours, there is so much variation. We presented it on a map of Scotland to help people understand how the different regions created different styles and flavours. As for Black and White, it has a great history and story behind it too. Its connection to iconic British things like the House of Commons or James Bond makes it stand out. As for flavour, I like its easy grain led flavour with that hint of citrus which makes it great for cocktails. Overall, it is a smooth blended scotch that is very well balanced, so it mixes with a spectrum of flavours to make them its own.
- How did you come up with the recipes for The Journal of Sharing?
We began by looking at the flavour of the whisky itself. It’s smooth and not peaty or smoky like some single malts or blends. As it is blended, there’s a range of flavours involved. There’s a citrus note too which also helped us when it came to adding additional flavours. It’s very even in flavour so can be used to make a variety of punches as well as more classic cocktails like an old fashioned. We found it very easy to work with and hopefully we’ve created some wonderful new experiences for people to try.
- You’ve said ‘the aim is to take the audience on a sensory voyage of flavours, memories, and emotions. Can you explain that in detail?
How long have you got? This underpins my whole philosophy on cooking and eating. It’s really a challenge for people to engage with the experience at a very conscious level. In my restaurants, especially The Fat Duck, we take this to a whole new level but at home, it is merely there as a starting point for people to change their relationship with food and cooking. If you are aware of every single moment with your food and drink it can be a wonderful new experience every time you cook or eat. We need to eat and drink to survive so each day presents an opportunity to do it. I call this approach ‘Quantum Gastronomy’ and it’s the way I’ve always cooked but now I understand more about the science and philosophy surrounding some other scientific areas of research too and I can see how they are very similar to my way of thinking around food.
Our brains are wired to predict what an experience may be like so that we can prepare our expectations. This is what I mean by the conscious experience of eating or drinking. It’s affected by our senses, our memories and our emotions and they combine in a uniquely different way for each of us and each time we cook, eat or drink to create that moment. The more we become aware of those factors the more fulfilment we can gain from the experience. In terms of creativity, once I realised, I could manipulate these factors to affect people’s experiences it became a very powerful way to present my work. As you can see, it can get as detailed as you like but really, I just want people to be aware that there is so much more to be enjoyed when eating and drinking beyond the simple metabolic activity.
- How are things post lockdown at your restaurants?
They are challenging there’s no doubt. We may be outside a lockdown now but as the new variant, Omicron sweeps through the world we are again entering a world of uncertainty. But we are resilient, have brilliant and talented teams of people working very hard and passionately so I have no doubt that whatever this virus throws at us we will adapt and cope.
- What are some new trends that you are seeing among diners?
I don’t tend to watch trends sorry. If I did, I would never have done any of the things I’ve done.
- You’ve been the pioneer of molecular gastronomy and the trend was all over the place. Are you working on a new trend for the post-Covid era?
My current focus is really an extension of all that has come before. I never really felt comfortable with the molecular gastronomy label, it tended to mislead people in terms of what I was doing. But I was certainly the first chef to fully use multisensorial techniques in the dining room. I am now working on what I call ‘Quantum Gastronomy’ as I’ve mentioned earlier and that will be the direction of my thinking from now on. As part of that, I am also studying the unique properties of water and how vibrational energy can affect them. It’s a substance that is all around us and, of course, inside us and we know so little about it. It’s probably the most unappreciated and misunderstood ingredient a chef has access to.
- Of the four cocktails and dishes in the series, which one is your personal favourite and why?
They are all so different and delicious in their own way. We designed them to pick up on the different aspects of Black & White whisky’s flavour so choosing a favourite is impossible The whisky has wonderful notes of vanilla, honey, dried fruit, and citrus as well as a touch of spice. All the drinks enhance those aspects in different ways. I was lucky enough to try them all as we developed them, so I suggest people do the same and let us know which one they like the best. The recipes are all about sharing and pairing so again I suggest you all try them and tell me which one works the best with each cocktail. We have created the Journal of Sharing for just this purpose.
- What are some of your biggest learnings from the pandemic?
Having travelled my entire career, I suddenly found myself stuck in one place for nearly a year without going anywhere. That place also happened to the South of France, so I was very lucky to be able to indulge myself in the local community. I was able to buy wonderful ingredients all grown locally as well as exercise in the beautiful French countryside when we were allowed. It made me realise how some of the most important things in our lives like food and cooking are often taken for granted, it really helped me gain a new perspective on my cooking and allowed me to refocus my work in a new direction. If we devote the time each day to making the cooking and eating part of it full of discovery and curiosity, then it can open a rabbit hole for people to fall into. It also made me more aware of how important our mental health is, I do believe the worst of this virus is yet to come and the impact it has had on the mental health of the world is still being uncovered. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia attack the very core of what I believe human beings are, our memories and imagination. So now is the time to be focusing on those and sustaining them.
- Do you think molecular cocktails will take off soon?
I am opening my first ever bar this year in Dubai. We have run bars within our restaurants before but never a bespoke bar. It’s called Resonance and I wouldn’t call anything I do as purely molecular, it is just the beginning of my creativity, but we will be taking our inspiration from all sorts of places from the bottom of the ocean to the inherent beauty of nature all the way to sands of the desert outside the hotel. It also just happens to have the world’s largest Jelly Fish tank inside it, well it is Dubai after all!
- What do you think of the evolution of cookery competition and shows from TV to streaming age?
I haven’t really done too many of them during my career. The one I am most passionate about is MasterChef Australia, I have been in nearly every series since the start and even recorded a couple of remote episodes last year when we could travel. It’s the only competition cookery show in my opinion that puts the contestants on a full-on emotional roller-coaster. They all must leave home and live together and cook each day in the studio. When they do the family challenge it’s often weeks since they saw their loved ones and it’s powerful. I’ve judged the final a few times too and they’ve even cooked a couple of my dishes. In the restaurant, we have a few days and quite a few chefs so to prepare them on your own against the clock is impossibly tough. I am always impressed by how they do.
- What are your future plans for 2022 and beyond?
Workwise I will be opening Dinner by Heston and Resonance inside Atlantis The Royal on the Palm in Dubai. I also have a new book coming out in 2022 which begins my exploration of cooking with a Quantum Gastronomic Perspective. Beyond that, I have plans to develop new products and partnerships in all areas from education to health care. Watch this space!