On Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Fat Duck’

I have just watched the penultimate episode of Masterchef the Professionals where the contestants were asked to learn techniques and cook at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant (voted the best restaurant in the world) the Fat Duck.

I have a habit of sitting on the fence about many issues I find hard to digest and this is one of them – should Blumenthal’s creations be lauded as changing cookery? Yes the artistry level is astonishing:

But is this really a valuable contribution to humanity as a whole – will the techniques developed – vacuum packing food, using a vacuum chamber to break down cell walls or using liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze – be of any use to humanity as a whole? Especially as these techniques were already used in scientific contexts and were newly applied to food and not the other way around?

I also find the wastage issue difficult, in Masterchef one contestant was in a room spraying a fine chocolate mist over cakes to give them an even covering – very pretty, but so wasteful, there was literally chocolate everywhere, and in a 3 Michelin star restaurant, that would have been exceptionally high quality chocolate. I just can’t justify this, when even in England, let alone the rest of the world, there are people with not enough to eat. Even the vacuum packing worries me, with oil rapidly running out, what justification can there possibly be for using plastic, a finite resource, for something that has one use and is then thrown away?

And yet, I was impressed on some level. Art is inherently wasteful, that’s the whole point. Psychologists / sociologists / anthropologists state that art was a way of saying “look how successful I am as a human, I’m so great at looking after myself I’ve got all this free time in which to do art”, a bit like a peacock’s tail, it’s an impediment and the attraction is that the person/peacock can get by despite that display of wastefulness. But art usually lasts. Given their longevity cave paintings were astonishingly economical – the same cannot be said of the Fat Duck’s food, what takes 90 hours of chilling and preparing and resting and cooking to create, takes only 30 minutes to enjoy, and those enjoying it (one can infer because of the price) are already those with much pleasure and comfort in their lives.

So, though I can see the joy of creation and the love of pushing the boundaries within ones industry, in my own mind, because of its impermanence, I can’t help but wonder, is it really worth it?


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