The first episode in Heston’s series of Feasts garnered some rave reviews, but I was left scratching my head. Episode two had me running for a sick bucket. This week’s outing made me certain I was watching a literary adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes which cunningly attached both the modern culture of semi-celebrity and our great nation’s tedious obsession with food to that marvellous fable and its inherent truth.
The title of the story has become lazy shorthand for trends that have no actual worth, but in this case the similarities in the details are too glaring to ignore. Swindler Heston convinces food critics, celebrities and the rich that his fantastic creations are the finest available, whilst the informed viewer sees just how pointless the whole farrago is. The food critics, celebrities and rich folk, taking on the role of King, eat his wares and claim it’s the most wonderful fare they’ve ever consumed – when the audience can see that it’s not much more than a barely cooked fish covered in its own blood. A disgusting, turkey flavoured milkshake. Or a pie caked in birdshit.
Sadly there’s no small boy present to point out the error of their ways.
It was probably a bad idea on Heston’s part, appearing in this series. Though the ratings are probably good and the press has been positive, we’ve now seen inside his kitchen and had more than our share of seeing his methodology in action. And we’ve also seen that the majority of his output involves pointlessly wacky combinations of incompatible flavours.
The supposed mythical beast last night was a complete rip off – a badly-constructed special effect with a food compartment from which they served chicken roll. The dessert was rice pudding and a sweet puree in the shape of bangers and mash – which is an interesting concept for two minutes, before you remember you’re a grown adult. I remember seeing marzipan fruit as a youngster and being utterly disappointed when I sank my teeth into it. I doubt this was much different.
But that’s half of his game. He makes stuff look like other stuff. He uses sheets and sheets of gelatin to mould stuff into shapes they shouldn’t be in. His approach to food is Willy Wonka – which is fine for the odd novelty sweet, but for a main of meat and veg seems dashed silly. This isn’t really cookery – it’s a grown man playing about with ingredients as if they’re play-doh and serving them to star-struck idiots who’ve been told to behave as though it’s the height of sophistication.
The likes of Jay Rayner, Alex Zane and Cilla Black may coo over the food, declaring it to be amazing, but their plaudits seem a little hollow. It’s as though they’d expected riches and been confronted by the flabby girth of their own pomposity, as swindler Heston chuckled in the background.