A (Somewhat Belated) Review – Heston Blumenthal at Home

Part mad scientist and part culinary genius, Heston Blumenthal is well known throughout the world for his creative and daring approaches to cooking. As a poster boy for modern molecular gastronomy and kitchen chemistry, his imagination and passion chips away at the wall of sterile facts that surround the world of food science.

Blumenthal produced his first of many cookbooks, Family Food: a New Approach to Cooking, in 2000. Six years later he produced his second and most famous book, Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection. Throughout In Search of Perfection, Blumenthal attempted to find the ‘perfect’ way of cooking classic dishes such as fish and chips and black forest gateau. The following year he produced Heston Blumenthal: Further Adventures in Search of Perfection, in which he continued the explorations begun in his previous book. In 2008 The Big Fat Duck Cookbook was published, giving the public a glimpse in to the kitchen of the so called ‘real life Willy Wonka.’

In his latest book, Heston Blumenthal at Home, Blumenthal takes a step back from his usual extravagance in an attempt to create a cookbook suited to the home cook. This approach still leaves him at least 99 steps ahead of most home cooks and as such, the tagline found on the back cover of the book ‘classic home cooking, by Britain’s most creative chef,’ is a little misleading.

The book is broken down in to 14 chapters: the essence of flavour; stocks; soups; starters; salads; meat; fish; sous-vide; pasta and grains; cheese; sides and condiments; ices; desserts and sweets; and biscuits, snacks and drinks. With the exception of sous-vide (a relatively new method of cookery meaning ‘under pressure’ in French), the book is laid out in a very similar way to most home cooking guides. Beyond the table of contents however, the similarities begin to blur and the book reads more like a science text book. The first chapter, the essence of flavour, outlines in full scientific detail, the physical process of ‘tasting’ a dish as well as comprehensive explanations of each ‘taste’ and its properties. The myriad recipes that follow see classics like carbonara, onion soup, florentines and vanilla ice-cream juxtaposed with more unusual dishes such as bacon and egg ice-cream, parsley porridge and marmite consommé. His more famous recipes for triple cooked chips and chocolate chip cookies are also included.

Throughout the book, Heston intertwines his own combination of creativity and precise scientific accuracy with tradition. Recipes such as roast chicken (usually cooked for 60-70 minutes, depending on the weight of the chicken) have been adjusted by Blumenthal to be slow cooked for 3-4 hours at a low temperature. Simple vegetables are planted in a garden bed of gribiche sauce with olives and grape nuts and a cheese toastie requires a washing up sponge to prepare. No matter how common place or traditional a dish may seem, Blumenthal manages to weave his culinary genius through it to make it something special and unique.

Beyond the amazing and sometimes intimidating collection of recipes, what makes this book exceptional are the images that accompany them. Beautifully styled and photographed, these modern, elegant photos do justice to the defined and polished artistry that is Blumenthal’s signature style. Far from the instructional, over garnished photos that are frequently seen in most home cookery books, these images would be better suited to the walls of MoMA than squashed between the pages of a cookbook. They are the sensational shining red cherry at the apex of a smoking, liquid nitrogen bacon and egg ice cream sundae (topped with a layer of foam of course).

In his introduction Blumenthal writes, “For some time I’ve wanted to write a book that has both exciting recipes and all the background information that explains how they actually work,” and Heston Blumenthal at Home achieves this goal. Although the recipes may seem a bit out of the ordinary and unachievable, Heston’s loyal followers would not expect anything less. The addition of well articulated scientific explanations of the processes allows the reader to feel more confident in their attempts and even those who normally loathe the often incomprehensible complexities of science will be fascinated by its application to food.

Heston Blumenthal is not a conventional cook and this book is littered with his trademark eccentricities. Heston Blumenthal at Home is not a cook book for the home economist but the home molecular-gastronomist. The marriage between science and imagination that flows from the pages provides information and inspiration for anyone interested in expanding and challenging their thoughts and experiences with food.