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The Bridge Between Conception and Realization

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Mr. Blumenthal, I thank you for your participation, and I eagerly anticipate the discussions that your responses will surely inspire...

I am most interested in your methods and philosophy, generally, with regard to the creation of new dish. How would you describe your role, or any chef's role, as a 'problem solver'? If not directly from a specific scientific or procedural revelation, from where might your inspiration come? How much emphasis do you place on the 'process' (with perhaps a great deal of trial and error) in relation to the final resulting 'conclusion'?

A second part to this question involves the balance of science and sensuality. For example, I have strong feelings and great admiration for the cuisine of Pierre Gagnaire, where the technical innovation often goes unnoticed due to the emotion a particular dish elicits. Broadening our batterie de cuisine can only increase our ability to express certain things through food, but some might argue that, in many cases, a chef's innovation comes at the expense of the diner's pleasure. How would you respond to that arguement, and to what extent might a sense of 'emotion' relate to your scientific curiosities?

Michael Laiskonis

Pastry Chef

New York


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I suppose that in some ways you could call a chef a problem solver although most of us try and get to a position where the problem does not arise in the first place!

I really do feel that this is where an understanding of the science of cooking will make a difference. It provides the confidence and the know how to give much more hope to rectify a problem in the kitchen.

Inspiration for dishes can come from all walks of life. I will give you some examples.

Tobacco chocolates.

Tobacco has been used in cooking in certain countries for centuries but it was not until I went to a cigar shop in my home town of Marlow nearly four years ago to buy a particular cigar from a customer that the idea for chocolates came to me.

I noticed behind the counter that there was a row of jars labelled Cherry, Christmas pudding and Chocolate amongst other things.

When told thet they were flavoured pipe tobacco, I asked to have a sniff.

I was surprised at how pleasant they smelt.

The idea came while smelling the chocolate flavoured tobacco. I then just reversed the mix, instead of chocolate flavoured tobacco, how about tobacco flavoured chocolate.

Parsnip cereal

We did a lot of work on looking at which vegetables benefitted from being cooked whilst trying to retain their volatile components and which ones did not. Brocolli was definately better when some of its' volatile compounds were removed by evaporation. Cooked in a sous-vide bag, strong stewed brussel sprout flavour resulted.

When cooking parsnips for a puree in a sous-vide bag, the parsnips came out really well. While pureeing them, I tasted the milk that we cooked them in and was instantly reminded of the milk left at the bottom a bowl of cereal. Sligthly yeast-like and sweet.

I then set about drying parsnips to make cereal.

White chocolate and caviar discs.

This one is really interesting as it has sparked off the potential for what I think is a whole range of fantastic possible combinations.

This is documented on our web site www.fatduck.co.uk.

Snail Porrige

As I mentioned in one of my other answers, my head chef Garrey had returned from a trip to New York and said that he had seen "Fish porrige" on the menu of a chinese restaurant.

I realised that this actually meant congee but in the translation it sparked off the idea of snail porrige. After all, oats are not at all sweet.

In this dish, the porrige is cooked very quickly to preserve the texture of the oats.

An interesting side line to this is the fact that snails are also purged on oats.

Basically, every dish on the menu has a reason for being and these can come from almost anywhere.

Some of the stuff that we have been working on over the past year involves the brain to palate connection and how this is altered by the role of the other senses.

We are and have been working on the use of sound to trick the mind into thinking that the texture in the mouth is actually different to what is perceived.

I could go on for pages in answer to your questions but unfortunately I will need a lot more time and space than I have now.

With regards to the "process", this can in some cases be more enlightning and enjoyable than the result itself.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a week in the labs of Firmenich, the flavour company that we work with in Geneva.

This was a week designed to bring together some of the people that we work with but instead of communicating by e-mail or phone, we were together in one building.

Prof. Andy Taylor, the inventor of the head space machine along with Harold McGee, Dr Kilcast from Leatherhead food research centre, Prof. Dom Motram, the Maillard reaction expert from Reading University and half a dozen other people gathered for a weeks workshop. Harold and I arrived on the Monday and were asked to give a presentaiton on the Thursday to the other delegats that were arriving then.We were basically left to our own devices and had to come up with a couple of things to be able to show them.

Well, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try an idea that I had been harbouring for over a year.

Trying to make a mouthfull of food that had four flavours but not together. The idea was hat these flavours came one after another.

Although fat holds flavour in the mouth for longer, the peak of flavour delivered by a fat based mix is less than that of a lower fat one made with, say milk.

So, I thought, if we made four gels, each with different fat levels and with a different flavour, the most volatile being in the least fatty mix and the least volatile in the most fatty, then we would have a gel with four flavours, each coming one after another.

The idea being that the least fatty gel would let go of the most volatile flavour the quickest, exploding in the mouth, as this died, the slower release of the relatively fattier second gel would then come through as the first dies away and so forth with the other two.

Althoguh we ran into a load of problems in doing trying this over the course of two days, the fun and learing that Harold and I got from this was incredible.

We also had a result. It worked! Not as well as it could but there was defniately enough to warrant more work. Unfortunately this will need a lot more work on it and for just one mouthfull as by the second one, some of the last flavour in the first mouthful will still be there.

This was a perfect example of how the "process" was almost more enjoyable than the end result.

I think that as a chef, you only put a new dish on the menu when you feel that it is ready to go on. The trouble is that when the dish is so new that it may not have anything to compare with, the customers perception is quite different from the chefs. Sometimes it is just a case of perception and other times it is the fact that until you start repetatively serving a dish, you do not know how to improve it or indeed consider that it might need improving at all.

There is also the probelm of whether the diners pleasure is being sacrificed because of the chefs innovation or the diners level of palatability or acceptability. Again we come back to the issue of what is acceptable to one person may not be at all acceptable to another.

Sorry, I did not quite understand your last point but although I have only really scratched the surface, I have to stop somewhere.

See you

Heston Blumenthal

The Fat Duck

The Fat Duck website

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