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Heston Blumenthal: chef, chemist or business guru?


Snail porridge? Bacon and egg ice cream? Is he a chef or a chemist? Heston Blumenthal may be having fun, but his approach to building his brand is serious business.


Heston Blumenthal may first and foremost come across as a perhaps overly-ambitious chef; a culinary explorer; an infectiously enthusiastic lab technician uncovering the scientific basis of the concept of food enjoyment. But at his heart, Blumenthal is a man of business.

After all, this is someone who has built up an enviably exclusive empire through sheer hard work and determination, identifying and capitalising on trends – and starting a fair few of them himself. He brought us ‘multi-sensory cooking’ because he identified the role the other senses play in our enjoyment of food. Having his diners listen to their food through headphones may seem a step too far for some, but for Blumenthal it’s his bread and butter. Such things are not gimmicks, as much as they may appear so; each step on the journey of discovery is about adding to the experience, the flavour – and the enjoyment.

“What I set out to do is entertain and engage people in food,” he says. “Some people just want to obsess with the science stuff, but for me it’s all about exploring the possibilities ,and yes, there’s an element of showmanship there too. It’s about embracing all five senses and injecting some magic – theatre and noise – into the experience. But it’s still food we’re talking about – food that we put into our mouths, so it can’t be too outlandish. While I love the science of food, I adore the appreciation of it too.”


Blumenthal’s origin story is typical of many chefs: becoming inspired at a young age, the seed of ambition germinating through adolescence and then the eureka moment. For Blumenthal, his purchase in 1995 of a pub in the high street of Bray, a village in around 30 miles west of London, was the foundation on which all else is built. Re-opening the premises as , his flagship restaurant (with its coveted three Michelin stars and numerous other awards) has since served up all manner of weird and wonderful concoctions, be they twists on the traditional or entirely innovative dishes.

Bray is also home to his pub The Hinds Head, and opposite that sits his research laboratory. The guinea pigs he tries his recipes out on are a relative lucky few – The Fat Duck seats just 42 and, unsurprisingly, there’s a waiting list; but the dining experience, mirrored by 42 staff members creating and serving up a fantastical 14-course tasting menu, is surely a rare treat. “We’re not McDonald’s,” he says. “We entertain people on an infrequent basis.”

And in 2015 he brought that experience here to Australia, effectively moving the entire Fat Duck operation to Melbourne while the Bray premises underwent a makeover. Although it was originally a temporary six-month sojourn Down Under, such was the reception that the restaurateur decided to make it a permanent fixture, re-naming it ‘Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’ – the namesake of his first Dinner restaurant in London’s Hyde Park. The Melbourne restaurant was his first to be opened overseas. “Australia has this uniqueness, which I find very exciting,” he says. “It’s exciting to start from scratch.”

Although he has found the restaurant marketplace in Australia difficult, Heston has flourished as someone we can relate to, and the 2020 series of MasterChef Australia represents the first time in a decade that the 53-year-old innovator won’t be returning to our screens.

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Despite a tough 12 months, he is still proud of his efforts to expand the Blumenthal brand, extolling the sort of adventurous spirit that got him noticed in the first place.

“I think this type of cuisine really works in certain places with certain types of diners,” he admits. “The Brits have got it, the Australians have certainly got it.

“I look at other places around the world and I wonder if they would think it’s all just a bit too peculiar. Take France for example – my whole foundation of being a chef is in the purpose and the precision of French cuisine, right the way down to how to properly boil a pan of water.

“I’d love to give something back to them and show them what I’ve created out of the staples they taught me, but I’m just not sure it would translate.”

For the meantime, Heston is eyeing up his next challenge as well as continuing to live out his Australian dream. “It was something I wanted to do and, at the time and at the age I was at, I decided that if I didn’t do it then I probably never would.

“I’ve since relaxed that view. Coming to Australia has actually taught me there isn’t any age at which you shouldn’t branch out and explore your dreams. The sort of thing I did is meant to be reserved for twenty- or thirty-somethings without home lives and responsibility, but I still went ahead and did it, and now it’s given me the thirst to keep exploring, to keep looking beyond psychological and geographical boundaries… France not included!”

Images by BBC Digital Pictures – use under term of service

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