Heston Blumenthal talks to Hannah Williams about his crazy world of fame, feasts and blowing up ducks
Filming for Heston's Feasts has all finished now. How did it go?
I'm really pleased with it. I feel it's a definitive step up from the first series and it's the first time I've been able to watch myself back without a feeling of complete self-hatred, so that's a good sign.
When you're smoking out a fire station with an explosive orange scented duck do you ever think 'I've gone too far'?
There's always a moment when I say (and I've stopped saying it to camera now) that this must be one of the most surreal things I've ever done and then the next day, 'this must be one of the most surreal things I've ever done' - I've just given up now.
It's one of those things when you get home and your wife goes, 'Oh what did you do at work today, Love?' and you go, 'Well I tried to eat a raspberry cheesecake in a wind tunnel and then I made some Champagne Blue Nun in a soda stream outside the Lloyds building and then I made the largest Breville toasting machine in the world'. All in a day's work.
What do your kids think about it all?
They love it. I've started filming a new series for Channel 4 where I do different challenges and one of them is to do with the NHS and hospital food, so I went to Alder Hey Children's Hospital. I was amazed at how many of the kids knew who I was and they love it. The great thing is we never lose the inner child in us, so to be able, as an adult, to eat and smell these things... well, you become a child again; it's like childlike wonderment.
Were there any dishes you were attempting in the Feast series that you had to give up on?
Well my initial thing for the Willie Wonka feast was, you know the thing he does with the chewing gum that has three different flavours? That was the thing I wanted to do more than anything else. But I realised when I started that if there was any way of making it happen there was no way I could do it in months - it would take a year's worth of work. So I had to very quickly change dish.
Well it's always good to have things to aim for. Maybe one day?
Definitely. The guys at Optomen have been brilliant. From their point of view, they don't cook, so they'll move the line from the incredible to suggestions that are absolutely pie in the sky. In the beginning that was quite frustrating because I was like 'no that's not possible', but by continually making these suggestions you then think 'hang on a second' and it creates a spark of an idea for something else. It's amazing how many ideas come from that.
Which feast went down best with the celebs?
Do you know, I think all of them. They all went down incredibly well. For me, I loved doing the edible house, the incredible Hansel and Gretel House - the opportunity to do something you could never do in a restaurant.
But the one that really stood out for me, the one that had a big impact, it would have to be the main course of the gothic horror, which we did inside a human skeleton. Some of the things like the house and the birds in a pie from the first series; when you see them in the flesh you think 'Wow, they look amazing' and we have a monitor in the kitchen and when you see them on the monitor they either look the same as they do - or they don't look as impressive as they do in the flesh.
The only one that looked as amazing was the skeleton; we served the beef in the ribcage, it had bits in the brain, it had a length of marrow split in half and stuffed with anchovies and breadcrumbs, and we sent it in on a morgue table with the blood bags.
When we wheeled that out I was looking on my monitor and I saw the guests' reaction and I saw that on the screen; that was the one dish that made them really come alive. OK it's quite macabre but there was something about it when you saw it on the screen, it was like seeing them go 'Oh my God what have you done Heston?'. Seeing their reaction; it was an initial one of shock because of all the elements but all the food on there tasted delicious and when we plated it up the effect was amazing.
Are there any dishes that you think, on a smaller scale, you'd consider doing at The Fat Duck?
I wouldn't necessarily say dishes but certainly elements, yes. The ribs that we put in the skeleton they were braised for 72 hours at 56 degrees and they were unbelievable. They were the best ribs I've tasted, in this country at least. That's definitely going on to the menu without a doubt.
All I want to do when I get a bit of breathing space in a couple of weeks time is to take the whole of the Feast series, and look back at the first series, and see how we can use stuff. It won't be whole dishes but it'll be the techniques from some of these dishes.
You always tell viewers not to try things at home, yet we're inundated with requests for replication tips - are there any crowd pleasing foodie tricks viewers could have a go at, at home?
Well we've got a book coming out about the series and for each feast we've got a few recipes. We haven't got the whole thing because there'd be 30-40 pages long for each feast, but we have got elements from the feasts that people can do at home. So we've got a rocket lolly, for instance. Do you remember the old rockets? We've made a Waldorf salad one of those.
You're often likened in the press to Willie Wonka. Is this a comparison you're happy with?
I think it's over complimentary, to be honest. It's great but I always say I'm not Willie Wonka because Willie Wonka's not a real person. It's one that I'm very happy hearing although I could never match Willie Wonka's creativity.
Roald Dahl obviously had a creativity that appeals to you; is there anybody dead or alive you'd like to cook for and see their reaction?
I would really love to have cooked a feast for Felicity Dahl who's a really good friend of mine. She first came to the restaurant 10 years ago. I'd finished service, I was upstairs doing the ordering and someone came and said 'There's a lady downstairs who'd like a word'. Now in those days you think 'it's probably someone coming to tell me I'm a crackpot' but I walked down and she stood up and said 'How wonderful, if only my husband were here to see this - you are Willie Wonka'.
Later we went round to her house for dinner and I sat there having a glass of Champagne and she came in, took the glass of Champagne out of my hand and placed a cardboard brown folder in my lap - I turned the page and it was the pencil written manuscript [of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory] with drawings. I literally froze. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I would really love to have cooked the feast for her.
Finally, a question everybody always wonders... What are you having for your dinner tonight?
Well right, tonight I think I'm having some type of pork cabbage fest because I'm going to be in the mountains in Prague and we're doing the cooking for a wedding tomorrow. So tonight I know what I'm having because I've pre-ordered it; charcuterie pork meats with sauerkraut, which I really like and I heard it snowed there last night so it should feel like proper mountain food.