«Every science is pooled inside a chef», wrote Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson in the 17th century. «More than an alchemist, more than a Rosicrucian/The chef is an architect, an engineer,/A soldier, philosopher, scientist,/and he is skilled in every form of mathematics». So there’s nothing new in the fact that today’s chefs have fun with graphics, test tubes and measures. It’s molecular gastronomy, otherwise known as scientific cuisine, the finest exponents of which include a man born in London in 1966.
His amazing rise to success lends weight to theory that those who are brand new to the game have a head start. Because Heston Blumenthal, as well as being English, is also self-taught: a white canvas just waiting to be painted by the seismographs of avant-garde cuisine. Few would have bet on his success and none of them would have been those chefs that binned his offers of work. Once a student of the John Hampden Grammar School, at the age of 16 Heston had been struck by a providential holiday to Provence with his parents. He fell in love with the idea of becoming a chef during an extemporary trip to the Oustau de Baumanière, founded by a genial self-taught dreamer like himself, Raymond Thuilier: the lobster sauce poured over the soufflé and the leg of lamb sliced on the cart made him cry out «I know what I want to do». Raymond Blanc was the only person to answer him, but the experience was too harsh and too short-lived, lasting just a week.
Heston then went on to do a bit of everything: apprentice architect, cameraman, photocopier salesman... Every instant of free time was reserved to the mad and desperate study of the classics of cooking, every penny to working-study transfers to the sanctuaries of gastronomy, in the company of his wife. Another decisive year was 1986, when Heston picked up the classic by Harold McGee On food and cooking; this led to scientific investigation into culinary procedures, but also the exploration of interactions between the sense, in line with the motional sphere and memory. It was 1995 before he finally opened his Fat Duck in a dilapidated pub in Bray: the menu is classic, but the Gallicisms hide scientific techniques, low cooking temperatures and super crunchy crisps after countless steps. And his cuisine took off, literally.
The research carried out over the years includes the amplification of air bubbles due to the use of vacuum (the secret of the famous bubbly chocolate), the trapping of taste in capsules, cold frying with liquid nitrogen (following in the footsteps of Agnes B. Marshall, the pioneering Madame Curie of gastronomy), synesthetic studies with headphones (see the effect of the amplification of the crunch), the psychology of taste, in the exchange between forms and contents. Blumenthal has made cooking a melting pot of disciplines that spits own lollipops and candies wrapped in cellophane, because the sweetshop is the paradigm of the ancestral layers of the memory and of cravings. Playful-cognitive set-ups recently perpetuated at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London (1 star, joining the 3 held by the Fat Duck), offsetting the third venue managed by HB: the very traditional gastro-pub the Hinds Head, built in Bray next door to the Fat Duck, with another star, awarded September 2012
Umbra di Perugia con residenza a Bologna, è giornalista e scrittrice di cucina. Tra i numeri volumi tradotti e curati, spicca "6, autoritratto della Cucina Italiana d’Avanguardia" per Cucina & Vini
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Harold James McGee, 72 years old, American. He will be on stage at Identità Milano on Monday 28th January 2023, at 10.55 a.m., in the Auditorium. Title of the talk: The universe of odours (photo by Gabriela Hasbun)
A photo from The Whole Fish Cookbook, the book from Australian chef Josh Niland where he explains his incredible dry ageing techniques for fresh fish. He did so a few weeks ago at Madrid Fusión. We were there