Heston Blumenthal: creativity and collaboration

I went to a talk by Heston Blumenthal at the Southbank Centre yesterday. I really enjoyed watching his recent elaborate cooking shows on TV, and though I haven’t been to Fat Duck or Dinner yet, they’re on my agenda. He was as entertaining as I’d hoped, full of stories that tie his cooking to Britain’s history, handy since the event yesterday was part of the Festival of Britain.

He mentioned something I thought was very insightful: that we think creativity is a modern thing, but there was actually more onus on it to be creative in the Victorian era, because there weren’t a whole lot of avenues for entertainment then.

He also narrated how the method of using our little finger to taste things came about: in Tudor times, it was used as an implement. There were no forks then, and people used their hands to eat meat. When they wanted to dip the meat into sauce, they’d use their little finger to put some on their meat, then wipe the finger on a towel on their shoulder, so as to avoid double dipping!

Other interesting tidbits: it is believed that the origin of the term ‘roast beef’ was French people who wanted to insult the British, but actually, it is originates in the fact that the British were the experts in cooking meat over an open flame, and the French sent their chefs to learn the procedure – hence they called the British chefs ‘les rosbifs’.

He closed with a clip of how he made mock turtle soup for the Channel 4 show, and how it ties in to Alice in Wonderland. If you’re interested, it’s the last video here.

A lot of the inspiration for his dishes, steeped in British history, came about following the sessions he saw at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery a few years ago, a rather intriguing-sounding event where Heston apparently heard people speak about things like baby food in the Ming dynasty (!!). He has also collaborated with food historians like Ivan Day and the people behind Historic Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace who researched food in the Tudor era.

Creativity and collaboration, two things that stuck in my mind as I left.

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