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  • 24 Feb

    Jo meets Heston Blumenthal.

    Posted by Team Macsween

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    The smoking points of olive oil, death row suppers and the merits of veal fat are all standard subjects of conversation for Heston to cover in the course of sharing a cup of tea.  A self-taught chef, his route to the top has been an unconventional one, involving rule-breaking, unusual experiments and an a certain degree of theatre.

    Listening to Heston deepens my belief that childhood experiences can be extremely formative, however fleeting.  For a 16 year old lad from London that eureka moment was a three star Michelin star fine dining experience in Provence, France when he was on holidays with his parents.  The whole sensory experience of  the occasion was extraordinary and he knew at that point that he wanted to  become a chef.

    'I am a  complete anorak', he confesses and then launches into how the triple-cooked  chip phenomenon began.  You see, its all  about fat, cracks and moisture. And it takes three  steps in his opinion to get the perfect  conditions for the fluffy inside and the crusty, crisp outside.  I find myself wanting to know more.

    Heston has barely got his coat off and taken a sip of coffee and now, I am completely  drawn into his obsessive world.  So, what  sort of fat? Well, he goes on, olive oil does have a higher smoking point that  many people realise (you can be sure that he will know this number to the  nearest decimal point) and vegetable oil and beef dripping are good too. But the preferred fat would be veal fat, the fat round the kidneys to be precise.  He goes back to the chips.  Its all about  the cracks.  You need the cracks in the  par boiled potatoes because that is how the fat sneaks in.  And the reason for the third cooking?  Well this allows more time for the moisture to be drawn out and the starchy crust to build on the outside.  So, it sounds so simple doesn't it?  But Heston knows his skill is both in the  precision of the execution of such a dish and that most of us simply don't have the time, patience or skill to carry out such cooking at home.

    Since his partnership with Waitrose, however, he has been able to develop his own range of foods, so that some of his prepared science can be transported into the domestic sphere. Whole orange Christmas puddings, mustard ice cream and macaroni cheese risotto style are all part of the range - there is no such thing as common-or-garden vanilla.

    He is keen to point out that his association with Waitrose is not a story about  another chef prostituting their celebratory name for a fat fee.

    He does his own shopping there -aways has done - and Waitrose are prepared to work the way he wants: endless rounds of experimenting to get the right recipe, and  every Monday team Heston go and buy every single product line and taste it.  Any products deemed not to be worthy  of the Heston name are taken off the shelf.  That is all the shelves, in all Waitrose stores. Immediately.  His work with Waitrose in many ways helps him to keep his triple starred Michelin restaurant afloat.  Holding on to a Michelin star or three is  harder than attaining it.  The  expectations are massive and waiting lists extensive. 30,000 calls a day is not  uncommon and with only 42 covers at the Fat Duck, you could be waiting a long  time. Heston feels strongly that keeping 'The Duck' (as he calls it) small is very important to him, but that has meant making some commercially challenging decisions. So the impact of removing a table for two from the premises, has reduced his turnover by around £280,000 per year. The decision  to close on a Sunday, over £500,000.  But keeping the team fresh and not trying to  cram too many people into a service is what the Duck needs to deliver to hold  onto its global uniqueness.

    This  focus, along with a rigorous application of molecular science, means that he  gets the very best from an ingredient and creates calmness in the kitchen.  His team follow very accurate recipes that often involve cooking to a very precise temperature point - accuracy to a single degree can be paramount.

    So, back  to death row suppers - what on earth would his last meal be? As you might expect, Heston could not possibly say as he would have to take into account every element of the moment,  including of course his mood, as if that were an essential component of the  dish.  Concerned to end on a more cheerful  note, I hand him a bag of Macsween Haggis.  I haven't eaten all day, he says, and this might just be what I need  when I get home, he smiles.  You never  know, it could just be the start of Heston Haggis ice-cream in Waitrose...

    Jo met  Heston at Eating your Words a Guardian Masterclass.

    Heston  Blumenthal's latest book is Heston Blumenthal at Home published by Bloomsbury