dec05 cheltenham cheltenham heston blumenthal

December 2005

Heston Blumenthal

  • REPORT 'New Frontiers of Taste' vol.3
    -Heston Blumenthal

    A True Genius

    Heston Blumenthal is without a doubt one of the highest profile champions of the fifth taste, having come to prominence in 2005 when his Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire, UK, was voted the best restaurant in the world by a panel of fellow restaurateurs. At the 'New Frontiers of Taste' event held in Cheltenham in June 2005 (click here for full details), Heston shared with the audience some of his ideas about umami, as well as demonstrating why he is a real pioneer in the world of taste and flavour.

    Heston Blumenthal

    Take Nothing for Granted

    Dr. Kathy Sykes, who chaired the event and is also Director of the Cheltenham Science Festival, introduced Heston by stating that he was "one of the very, very few geniuses I've ever met." Heston was at pains to point out first and foremost that he did not consider himself a scientist. He did not have any scientific training, and indeed left school with only one qualification, in Art. Instead, he described how he taught himself the principles of taste and cooking, by learning from an early age to question conventional thinking, and constantly ask why things are done in a particular way.

    "I remember reading a book by Harold McGee, where he said that browning meat does not seal in the juices, and this is contrary to everything you are taught in classical French cookery. From then on, I learned to question everything in cooking, and if I didn't understand something I would ask 'why', and I would keep asking 'why' until I got an answer I could understand."

    Umami, Naturally

    One topic that Heston is interested in exploring is that of umami, although he believes that public perception is something that may need to be dealt with in the promotion of the fifth taste. He said, "one thing at the moment is the MSG [monosodium glutamate] issue, as that is the [umami] taste in its purest form, but it [umami] is present in loads of other foods." He also pointed out that that although the term umami was not fully understood by many people outside Japan at present, "by eating foods such as pizza, which includes cheese and tomato, we have gone for foods which are high in umami without realising it."

    Appearances can be Deceptive

    Heston is very interested in our preconceived ideas about food, and in particular the way in which we are affected by the words used to describe food, in other words neuro-linguistic programming. As he explained, "If I've got some crab ice cream, and I say to someone, 'here, have some crab ice cream', a barrier goes up, but if I say, 'have some frozen crab bisque', the barrier comes down." Heston has of course, famously created dishes designed to test these barriers to the limit, such as bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge.

    As well as experimenting with food terminology, however, Heston is constantly trying out new innovations in the field of taste, and he allowed the audience to experience one of his creations for themselves. He offered two sweets, the first of which was a beetroot flavour pastille. The second was identical to the first in every way, except for the addition of tartaric acid. This lent the sweet a blackcurrant flavour. Heston explained that using the same technique pumpkin sweets could be made to taste of apricot and fennel sweets of lime.

    Heston's beetroot jellies

    The Future of Eating

    Heston talked about what he sees as the future of eating, suggesting that multi-sensory stimulation will be the way forward. He said, "I imagine that in a few years' time you'll be able to go into a hotel room, and you'll have a card, and you can press a button and change the colour of the room, or the smell to suit your mood." He feels this philosophy of a greater degree of individual choice will also extend to cooking.

    He again emphasised that eating did not just involve the sense of taste, but also the way other senses are stimulated, and in particular the effect of the eating environment and ambience. He illustrated this by saying, "you go to the Loire Valley, and you might be next to the river, drinking some Muscadet, but then you taste it in England, and it's not the same, because your whole surroundings have changed." This glimpse provided by Heston of a future where it may be possible to stimulate not only our sense of taste but also our other senses through more exacting control of flavour and ambience was a fitting conclusion to the event, and truly allowed the audience to experience new frontiers of taste.

    The Fat Duck restaurant:

  • Heston Blumenthal

    Heston's beetroot jellies

  • Heston's beetroot jellies