Sunday, May 6, 2012

Heston Blumenthal Live

I'd been looking forward to Heston Blumenthal Live for months, a "one night only" event (Saturday 5 May in Auckland) starring the award-winning celebrity chef which included New Zealand for the first time.  I had no idea what to expect, other than what I had read in a news article, so I was ready to be surprised and delighted by the "extravaganza".

Tickets and a souvenir from the show.
It started off well, with Heston cooling a meringue with liquid nitrogen to the sound of dramatic music, which he then fed to host Mike Hosking.  I also enjoyed hearing about the chef's past, how he worked 120-hour weeks with just a pot washer and two front-of-house staff, after starting up his own restaurant (The Fat Duck) with only two weeks' experience in someone else's kitchen.  I held my breath when he told us about his first big reservation, a table of eight booked six or eight weeks in advance, and how disaster struck at 7:30pm on the evening of the dinner.  And I was impressed by video clips of some of his exquisite dishes being made: mock turtle soup being shaped into the form of a gold-plated fob watch, as well as the construction of a very thin tart which looks like a Queen of Hearts playing card, both in keeping with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Fob watch tea bag and Queen of Hearts tart (photos from Popcorn & Toast).

I enjoyed the show, and I admired the man's talent, but I couldn't help feeling just a little bit disappointed.  We didn't really learn anything new (sous vide and other techniques were barely mentioned), there weren't any cooking demonstrations (unless you counted the making of ice cream using dry ice), and there were no practical cooking tips as promised in an interview with Viva.  Heston's thoughts on eating as a multi-sensory experience, including the difference between taste and flavour, are already widely available online.  In fact, his talk with Paul O'Grady was pretty much what we witnessed last night, with the exception that we were not shown either of the demonstrations in the talk show.

Having to sit through multiple advertisements did not help either (did they need all these sponsors when we were paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket?).  The audience participation activities (which you were excluded from unless you were sitting at the front downstairs) were cheesy, with plenty of fake reactions from those on the stage.  The questions at the end were pre-selected rather than spontaneous.  To add to the disappointment, news reports claimed that Heston took us through his "logic-defying hot and iced tea" and his "famous snail porridge", when in fact he did not mention these dishes at all.

Despite thinking the show could have been much better, there were a few things which made the evening worthwhile.  It put the scale of Heston's work into perspective. We discovered, for instance, that the Fat Duck gets 30,000 calls per day, and they need to have two people dedicated to reservations for the 42 customers that they can fit into the restaurant.  We also learnt that the chef is helping prepare a 5-course menu for 13,000 guests at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next month.

I have now been motivated to watch many episodes of Heston's Feasts, which are both entertaining and inspirational.  Although I would not pay so much money to see Heston live again, it is nice to be able to say I was in the same room as someone of his calibre.  Hopefully, I will someday be able to experience his creations for myself too.


  1. That's really disappointing. I was so tempted to go, but I couldn't justify the cost of the ticket.

  2. Well, you didn't miss much. Everything in the show is pretty much already online somewhere. It's a good introduction for people who didn't know much about him though.

  3. Some interesting discoveries that he shared include using a nasal douche to enhance your ability to detect the flavour of your airline meal and that adding salt to a dish can reduce its bitter taste. Even though this info is available online, I guess you might not have come across it before, and the man definitely has passion!

  4. I was tempted too, as a big fan of his shows too. But I couldn't imagine that the wonder of his food and shows would translate to a live show very well. I am all about the close ups and diners reactions.

    I can't even imagine preparing a meal for 13,000 guests. Even cooking fir just 8 guests stresses me out a bit.

  5. True, though I thinking he is just helping to design the menu, rather than actually cooking for that many people. Also, I think it is more of a picnic, so he doesn't need to worry about timing or food getting cold. People can eat when they want to from the pre-packaged containers of cold soup, tea-smoked chicken, etc.


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