Heston Blumenthal is a judge on the MasterChef panel this week.
Heston Blumenthal is a judge on the MasterChef panel this week. CHANNEL 10

EXCLUSIVE: Find out what really makes Heston tick

IT'S a Tuesday night and I'm standing in my kitchen staring at the bench with a glass of wine in hand.

The wine's not out of the ordinary (don't tell my doctor or my personal trainer) but the experiment I'm about to do most certainly is.

I'd got off the phone with chef Heston Blumenthal about half an hour earlier, his instructions still fresh in my mind.

I write out the word wine on two sheets of paper, one in large balloon letters and the other in jagged letters.

I flip one over, look at the other and sip the wine, swirling it in my mouth before swallowing.

I repeat with the other sheet of paper, and of course Heston was right.

Heston Blumenthal is a guest judge on the MasterChef panel this week.
Heston Blumenthal is a guest judge on the MasterChef panel this week. CHANNEL 10

The wine tastes sharper when I look at the jaggedly written word, and smoother when I look at the other.

Perhaps knowing the desired effect of the experiment has clouded my judgment, so when my partner walks through the door I make him my lab rat.

I don't tell him what's supposed to happen, but when I ask if the wine tasted differently he confirms it does and in the exact same way it did for me.

This simple test of how our mind can affect our tastebuds is the future of food, according to Heston.

The British chef has become a familiar face to many Australians thanks to his long-running relationship with our version of MasterChef.

"The biggest food explosion I've seen in any country in such a short time was here in Australia and MasterChef was the catalyst for that," he says.

To foodie fans around the world he's the genius behind The Fat Duck, the humble-looking Bray eatery which was the fastest in the UK to earn three Michelin stars for head-spinning dishes like egg and bacon ice cream and snail porridge.

"I have this Alice and Wonderland thing in my head where I question everything," Heston tells Weekend.

"When I found the Sicilian recipe for marzipan ice cream - I obviously grew up with ice cream being sweet -that led to my understanding of the mechanics of why we put things in ice cream, which then led to my first (academic) paper with a guy from Sussex University. It was perceived saltier when it was (presented as) an ice cream rather than when it was a mousse. The expectation is out of kilter with what's delivered; nudging I call it. The same thing has been found recently with coffee and wine.

 

"What makes the decision on whether we like or dislike things? What many people don't realise is how many little bits of things influence our decision making.

"We spend so much time being anxious and thinking about what we should be doing tomorrow. The more we can just be mindful and in the moment the better."

Savoury ice cream is one of the challenges Heston presents to the MasterChef contestants when he returns to our screens tomorrow night for the reality cooking show's Heston Week.

A lottery was set up on the show's social media pages to give some lucky fans the chance to attend the challenges, filmed at various locations across Melbourne, and see the Willy Wonka of modern cooking in the flesh.

At Brighton Beach, a colourful and appropriate setting for the savoury ice cream challenge, there's a stack of encyclopaedic The Big Fat Duck cookbooks awaiting Heston's autograph.

A high-pitched squeal can be heard as one is returned to its owner, who has travelled all the way from Cairns in Far North Queensland to meet his idol.

The Heston fandom and his many accolades are even more impressive considering he was a relative latecomer to the food world.

He left school at 18 to begin an apprenticeship at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir but left after a week's probation.

He wouldn't step foot back into a commercial kitchen for 10 years, working a variety of "undemanding" jobs from credit controller to repo man.

Heston Blumenthal is a guest judge on the MasterChef panel this week.
Heston Blumenthal is a guest judge on the MasterChef panel this week. CHANNEL 10

"I do have a past that is quite unique; I was lucky (to get back into cooking) but I think we make our own luck," he says.

His penchant for science and its uses in cooking - he has been awarded several honorary degrees and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry 10 years ago - also developed in adulthood.

As a child he says he wasn't the type to be found tinkering with a chemistry set or whipping up delicious dishes in home economics.

"I think I'm more inquisitive now than I've ever been in my life," he says.

"The schooling system doesn't really encourage us to question. It encourages us to take on as sponges and ask questions when we're told to ask questions.

"We don't know how to mark creativity. We judge so many things as a top 10 or top 20. Everything has to be a number as opposed to just a feeling.

"Real creativity is to do something without knowing an outcome. We do need structure and discipline at school but we need some time to be creative without being judged."

Creativity is something Heston seems to have by the bucket load. From building an entirely edible pub in the shape of a pie for one of his TV shows to inventing recipes many of us now take for granted, such as triple-cooked chips and the soft-centred Scotch egg, the 50-year-old loves to flip traditions and expectations on their heads.

"My ideas evolve and take shape, but there are instant moments (of inspiration)," he says.

"There's a jigsaw puzzle on the wall at The Duck and there's a metaphor in that for the massive jigsaw puzzle in my head."

But perhaps the true key to his success has been his inability to settle. There's always something new, always something that can be done better -a never-ending pursuit of improvement, rather than perfection.

Perfect is a word that has become a cliche in the reality cooking world (count how many times it's used in a single episode of My Kitchen Rules, for example) and Heston, despite being a stickler for detail, warns against spending too much time worrying about perfection.

"Perfection is the enemy of creativity," he says.

"Two plus two equals four - that's perfect. The problem with perfection is it creates failure, which is seen as something bad. We have a fear of rejection and then we're scared to have a go."

The next frontier for Heston and his ever-evolving Fat Duck is personal, multi-sensory cooking.

"The new Fat Duck is the most ambitious thing I've ever done," he says.

"Think of a seaside memory. You will have one very fond seaside memory, maybe walking along the beach and the waves might be lapping or there are no waves or they might be crashing. Personalising (the dining experience) - that's the thing. We're starting to personalise (The Fat Duck menu) now, but I reckon it'll take me another two or three years to get there. Obviously it's a big ask.

"The whole move to Australia (last year) was really to redo The Fat Duck. It sounds a bit corny, but the personal journey I went through was trying to work out why did I go down this route? How come I found this multi-sensory (style of cooking)?

"It just gets more and more exciting. The other day I was saying I exhaust myself. That's the problem - I love it."



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