Posts Tagged ‘Heston Blumenthal’

Heston’s Tudor Feast

March 19, 2009

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.

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Big Chef Takes On Little Chef

January 20, 2009

The Great British Food Fight, alternatively referred to as ‘more cookery rubbish’ by the public at large, kicked off last night with Heston Blumenthal’s much-touted attempt at reinvigorating Little Chef’s branding, by way of the focal point of their operation – their rancid menu.

Like Blumenthal, I’ve not been inside a Little Chef in twenty-odd years. When Channel 4 eventually ventured in, it was both heart-warming and disturbing to see that absolutely nothing had changed in there. Not only in terms of the style of the interior, but also the actual interiors themselves. No broken chairs or peeling wallpaper appears to have been fixed. Now, this may not be true of every branch. Channel 4, devious bastards that they are, are probably using one bad example to tarnish the whole change. All the same, wilting pink walling isn’t what you want to see as you eat a leathery mixed grill.

Speaking of the food, it’s hard to defend what Little Chef were putting out. Hardened, overcooked, frozen meat. The fish pie looked like mixed bodily-fluid with the skin of an old woman floating on the surface. The Hawaiian Burger looked like roadkill. Heston and pals even gagged as they sipped the coffee. It could have been pantomime snobbishness, but it looked the real deal. Even as someone who despises the meaningless, middle-class bullshit of the word ‘foodie’, the food here simply looked unappetising

The strange thing with Heston Blumenthal is that, despite his running one of the most celebrated ponce-kitchens in the world, he comes across like a very decent bloke (and the kind of boss we all wish we had). He reminds me most of certain posh kids at secondary school who were almost embarrassed of their accents and sought to rid themselves of their upper-middle class roots by selling hash by the teenth in the playground. He comes across, essentially, as a stoner schoolchild with a frying pan.

Heston B’s approach to food is, fundamentally, at odds with what Little Chef seek to do. They’re operating in completely opposing markets – as Channel 4 knew full well when setting this absurd venture up. And fireworks have already started to fly, with the show’s one special ingredient turning out not to be the not-very-nutty professor Heston, but rather the Head Honcho at Little Chef, Ian Pegler. Pegler gifts Channel 4 the tools with which to make entertaining television, and from the moment he refused to give the company’s GP (or any figures at all, as it turned out) to Blumenthal, we knew we were on to a winner.

Ian is the anti-Alan Sugar, by way of Alan Partridge. From his bewilderingly misplaced use of the term ‘bluesky thinking’ to his assertion that Heston B could do absolutely anything he wanted with the company (so long as he didn’t change the menu), the befuddled swine was a trove of amusing vignettes, no moreso than the point towards the end at which, when pressed, he hung up on Heston Blumen-heck in a mild panic – a comedy moment which had to be seen
to be believed.

So far it’s a curious little programme this. You can’t help but feel HB is the only one of Channel 4’s four chefs who could actually do something with the idea. Hugh FW would start blubbing straight off the bat, Ramsay would fail, then blame everyone around him and Oliver would fail whilst pretending he’d succeeded, playing some Snow Patrol over the end credits by way of insisting he’d changed the world.

It’s interesting watching snobbishness battling inverse snobbishness and so I’ll watch this through to the end. It’s worth it for the guilty pleasure of the hilarious hatchet job on Ian Pegler, which would be cruel rather than amusing, if only it wasn’t Ian himself himself holding the hatchet.