15 July 2015

The fascinating Mr Heston Blumenthal in conversation

How many of you have your own coat of arms? Heston Blumenthal is clearly very proud of his and was rather taken aback to have several members of the audience raised their hands in response to his question! Well, he acknowledged, this was Kensington. We were gathered, with or without our own coats of arms, in the Victoria and Albert Museum to hear Heston in conversation with Dr Polly Russell, reflecting on his life and work. 

Let's start with that coat of arms. After 7 years of planning, his design tells his story through the following elements you can see on the photo (apologies for fuzzy photos - it was a dark room!)
  • The duck at the top is for the Fat Duck, his world famous 3 Michelin starred restaurant
  •  The senses, so important to his ideas about cooking are there: smell is represented by lavender; taste by the apple; sound by the lyres. 
  • The 3 roses are his 3 Michelin stars 
  • His motto is key to his approach to life: 'Question Everything'.
 He couldn't quite squeeze his trademark glasses into the design and it sounded like the College of Arms gently vetoed this idea!

Heston's very own coat of arms

Heston is an entertaining, informal speaker and even though his must have told his stories many times, they are still fresh and his passion for cooking, history and science shine through along with his joy in telling an audience about British cooking and how it has reclaimed its rich gastronomic history.

Heston was born in London in 1966 at a time when British cuisine was seen to have 'a bit of an issue' and most exciting new thing for those eating out was a meal in a basket!  One meal he experienced in his teens changed his life and it is not perhaps that surprising as it was in a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Provence, a far cry from his everyday meals.  He remembers vividly how this glorious place touched all his senses, the sound of the waiters' leather shoes on the gravel, the sound of the crickets, the sight of the cheese trolley and the huge fishbowl sized wine glasses and the incredible taste of the food. He describes this as falling down a multi-sensory rabbit hole, an Alice in Wonderland reference that returned later in the evening. 

For many years he worked in unlikely jobs such  as a photocopier salesman, debt collector  and credit controller while he developed his cooking in the evenings, trying out dishes, wanting to learn more. He wanted to find out why chips went soggy and I was amazed to hear that he invented the triple cooked chip to solve this problem!  He studied classical French cuisine through books and it was another book by Harold McGee that was to set him on the path to becoming the chef we now know. Harold turned many of the accepted tenets of cooking on their head, such as you should always sear meat to seal the flavour in, showing them as false and encouraged a more scientific approach to what actually happens to meat when you cook it.  From this Heston developed the idea of Question Everything. So, yes ,he has no formal, conventional training which is staggering given his success. 

Heston started the Fat Duck in Bray serving French classics bistro style with just himself and a porter/pot washer and the dedication to work 120 hours a week. He experimented and was not bound by the constraints of other restaurants where conformity often rules. Gradually the food became more adventurous and the accolades followed. 

Now, the dishes he works on are extraordinarily complex in their ingredients, construction and layers of meaning. He took us through 2 examples, a seafood dish called Sounds of the Sea and a Mock Turtle Soup. A beautifully shot video of the creation of the Sounds of the Sea showed us a wide range of fish and shellfish being assembled with numerous green vegetables and seaweeds, dressed with sauces and foam with a tapioca based 'sand'. Being a Heston dish this is intricate dish not complete as he had not satisfied the sense of hearing so on the table is a large shell with an ipod inside playing the sound of waves lapping on the seashore to remind us of good times spent at the seaside!

Sound of the Sea

 Mock Turtle Soup is a dish that reflects Heston's fascination and depth of knowledge of historical cuisine as back in Victorian times this was a dish of high status. However they were busy emptying the Caribbean of all its turtles to be able to impress by serving this luxurious dish so the inevitable shortage of turtles led to calves heads being substituted, hence the name 'mock turtle'.  Heston has created the most elaborate modern version, with reference to the Alice and the Mad Hatter's tea party and the fob watch which is dipped into the teapot. His version is too complicated to remember let alone explain but does involve shaping dried consomme into a fob watch, covering it in gold leaf, a beautiful thing in itself, only to dissolve it to form the soup element of  the dish. There are so many gadgets reducing, centrifuging and sieve that you sit and watch in amazement as so much work and invention goes into one dish. The boldness , the pushing of boundaries, combining elements no one else would think of, the enormous work that goes into everything he does from researching a dish to its preparation, it's all wonderful to watch and hear him describe as if it's perfectly normal.  However, when asked what he would cook for his family given just half an hour he replied bbq cheese burgers or pasta - so just like us really! 

Heston, and Polly, with Mock Turtle Soup and gold fob watches on the screen behind

There were no sales pitches to push books or TV series or a new restaurant opening which was refreshing although I would have loved a signed copy of Historic Heston. The book which looks amazing, although I would never think of attempting any of his recipes as you'd need an army of sous chefs, a massive kitchen and acres of time. Instead, I can recommend trying out Dinner, his London restaurant where the menu tempts you with great dishes, each with their historic provenance.  Do try the 'meat fruit' and the 'tipsy pudding' if you get the chance......

To experience his multi-sensory thinking for yourself, click on this link from the Fat Duck website. The restaurant is closed currently and will reopen late 2015 so start saving up now!

Bye for now,

1 July 2015

What's on in London this summer?

The answer is that there's so much good stuff that you'll want to be out and about every day! Here's my London seasonal newsletter which I send out to subscribers but I wanted to share with you all so you don't miss out.



  • July The Proms season begins for the 120th year and there are over 100 varied and magnificent concerts making this the world’s greatest classical music festival, held in the Royal Albert Hall.  Big names and old favourite pieces feature alongside new commissions and lesser known work and this year there is a focus on the piano with Prokofiev, Beethoven and Mozart featuring. David Attenborough fronts a Life Story Proms and another celebrates 20 years of Radio 1 in Ibiza
  • August. The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge event, the largest street party in Europe. There is a massive parade of music and costumes, sounds stages blasting out everything from reggae to rock and roll, all kinds of great street food, dancing in the streets and tons of fun to be had over the 2 days when millions of people come to Notting Hill for a great time.
  • September The Proms season concludes with the famous Last Night of the Proms which takes place in the Royal Albert Hall but also live streamed into Hyde Park. The Mayor’s Thames Festival, Totally Thames, brings the river alive for the whole month, we are expecting the river to be buzzing again this year and the riverside restaurants will be joining in with special menus and events. 


  • July   Another great season at Shakespeare’s Globe, called Justice and Mercy, sees Richard ll and, rather more unexpectedly, Richard lll in Mandarin!  As the school holidays are upon us there’s a show for family audiences at the Garrick Theatre as Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain Part 3, puts the fun back into history. A new musical, American Idiot, opens at the Lyric with music by Green Day from their Grammy award winning album called, of course, American Idiot. If you are looking for more serious fare, a Caryl Churchill play will do the trick so catch A Number at the Young Vic.  Be amazed by tricksters, magicians and mind readers in Impossible at the Noel Coward Theatre.
  • August Two more new shows for the schools holidays: Aliens Love Underpants – from the popular book - at the Dominion:  and, Michael Morpurgo’s  I Believe in Unicorns. The Donmar Warehouse hosts great plays and Abi Morgan’s Splendour looks worth a ticket. The Barbican’s run of the sell out Hamlet starts, starring the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch.  The National Theatre’s Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker which was winning awards back in 1988.
  • September One of the big openings this month is Photograph 51 starring Nicole Kidman looking at the work of a much overlooked female scientist in the race to unlock DNA. Kinky Boots has been heavily trailed as it has music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper.  Moving into the West End after a break, Farinelli and the King stars Mark Rylance which is enough to persuade any theatre lover to buy a ticket!  Often seen on TV and film but less so on stage is Jane Eyre, opening at the National.

  • July A must see for fans of Hollywood glamour, Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon is on at the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery branches out with Soundscapes, new musical works in response to paintings from the collection.  The Cartoon Museum has a show called Alice in Cartoonland – 150 Years of Alice will show how she has been depicted over time.
  • August  Not many openings this month so don’t miss the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition closing this month – the world’s greatest open entry art show! Also, Sonia Delaunay at the Tate Modern closes this month so do catch her wonderful colourful pieces in a show which I really enjoyed.
  • September The Royal Academy hosts an Ai Wei Wei exhibition showcasing two decades of his work which is curated in collaboration with him but he is working from his studio in China as leaving the country against the rules - although there may be some loosening of this control of his movements so keep an eye on this. The Tate Modern hosts The World Goes Pop, taking a world view of pop art beyond western consumer culture.


  • July Don’t miss the bargains in London’s famous July sales where everyone from the High Street to Harrods slash their prices. Spitalfields Market has regular events including an Independent Label Market in July.
  • August Summer is the best time to visit London’s numerous street markets: Portobello, Columbia Road, Camden, Greenwich and many more. Any day of the week one of these great markets will be just the place to while away the summer and grab some unique purchases.
  • September  London Fashion Week is a chance to get ahead of the fashion curve with catwalk shows and splash out on some new clothes too, with collections  looking ahead to spring/summer 2016. This year it moves to the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road so expect a whole new vibe compared with Somerset House.


  • July  The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths are open for a rare viewing.  Also open for a rare visit is the Bank of England for a tour – you can see the museum anytime but the bank itself is unsurprisingly most often closed to us!
  • August  The Dickens museum branches out this month with a gin tasting session in the original Victorian kitchen and a book binding workshop – hopefully in the other order....  The mind blowing Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition closes at the Natural History museum this month so don’t miss it.  Also due to close so don’t miss the block busting Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A for its extraordinary staging and out of this world clothes.
  • September The Science Museum will be hosting a great sounding exhibition called Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, an in depth look at the Russian space programme with many items never seen outside Russia before.  The British Museum brings us a show exploring our Celtic ancestors called Celts: Art and Identity. It’s the first major exhibition to explore the influence of the Celts stretching back 2500 years and still current today. The V&A has a new Indian exhibition called the Fabric of India, a highlight of their India season.


  • July One opening that’s had all the punsters out and about is Egg Break from the Soho House team which comes to Notting Hill – yes it’s egg-celent as everything is egg based.  On the single ingredient theme is Crab Tavern opening in Broadgate Circle, the City’s new foodie destination. A further single ingredient opening is Balls and Company in Soho, promoting the humble meat ball and the not so humble version made from wagyu beef. Arriving from USA, the first European opening of the very popular Chicago sandwich shop, Pot Belly comes to Westfield Stratford.
  • August Masterchef winner Tim Anderson opens in Nanban in Brixton offering ramen and izakaya.  Much awaited arrival of the multi Michelin starred Spanish chef David Munoz street inspired food from Madrid to Mayfair in StreetXo.  The inexhaustible Jason Atherton turns his hand to Japanese food at Sosharu in the east of the City.  The BBC Good Food Festival returns to Hampton Court.
  • September  I can’t wait for Les 100 de Taillevent from the people behind the very famous Parisian restaurant Taillevent.  Coin Market in Exmouth Market will be a retro diner with 70s styling and even serving Chicken Kiev. A new rooftop bar will always be popular so Galadari atop the Crowne Plaza near St Paul’s offering Japanese cuisine should be worth a visit.
  • July The famous Flower Show takes over the grounds of Hampton Court for a wonderful day out in a more relaxed atmosphere than the Chelsea equivalent.
  • August  Buckingham Palace starts its summer opening when the Queen goes on her holidays and lets us look around her London home.  Clarence House is also open – the London home of Prince Charles and Camilla. The BBC Good Food Festival comes to Hampton Court’s grounds to tempt you with all kinds of goodies.
  • September  The Last Night of the Proms is streamed live into Hyde Park so thousands can wave flags and sing their hearts out. Buckingham Palace is still open to visitors but closes at the end of the month as the Queen returns to London.


  • July Wimbledon has moved on a week this year so July now has the second week of this great tournament and the hopes of the nations rest on Andy Murray. The Ashes cricket between England and Australia come to London for the 2nd test at Lords, the home of cricket.
  • August. Ride London is a massive cycling event for the public and elite competitors.  The 5th and final Ashes test match will be played at the Oval, let’s hope there is still something to play for..... The warm up matches for the Rugby World Cup will be taking place with England playing France at Twickenham.  County cricket will be in full flow at all the London grounds.
  • September Qualifiers for football’s European Championships see England take on Switzerland at Wembley. However, the big game in town is the Rugby World Cup with matches at Twickenham, Wembley and the Olympic Stadium. This is a massive event and takes places all across England with some matches in Scotland and Wales as well.

  • July  The festival season is in full flow with Wireless Weekend in Finsbury Park with David Guetta and Nicki Minaj. Calling on Clapham Common headlines with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Kew The Music has one of the best settings for Paloma Faith, UB40 , The Specials and of course Jools Holland. Somerset House rivals Kew for setting and brings us a wide range of styles including George Ezra, Jessie J and James Bay. Lovebox in Victoria Park headlines with Snoop Dogg and Rudimental. With Hot Chip and Jessie Ware. Let’s not forget the nightly Proms season which kicks off in July and stretches through to September.
  • August  The festival South West Four on Clapham Common brings us the biggest names in electronic music. Reggae star Jimmy Cliff at the 02 gets us revved up for the Notting Hill Carnival – 2 days of very loud music to get us all up and dancing in the streets. Look out for Gaz’s Rocking Crew and the nearby dub reggae truck which are my favourites or get your ears blown off on All Saints Road!
  • September  The festivals are still with us as On Blackheath returns with Elbow, Manic Street Preachers, Madness, Laura Mvula and Kelis.  The wonderful Proms come to an end with a simulcast in Hyde Park where the Jacksons are the warm up band. The Proms are not all classical and before they end Jarvis Cocker has an evening.  It’s retro time around London with concerts by Crosby, Still and Nash, Art Garfunkel (on his own!), Level 42 and Dave Gilmour (without the rest of Pink Floyd). To balance this One Direction have 6  nights at the 02!.


*All listings correct to the best of my knowledge but exact details should be checked with each venue.