In the UK: Tuesdays, 8.30pm, BBC2
They say it’s the journey rather than the arrival that’s more important. It’s certainly the case with Heston Blumenthal. The proprietor of “the best restaurant in the world”, The Fat Duck, with three Michelin stars to his name is on a quest for perfection in cooking. He mixes traditional cooking skills with science (you can read an interview with one of his natural science graduate-cooks, if you like) to create recipes that can be odd and yet delicious.
In Heston Blumenthal – In Search of Perfection, he decides to create the best versions possible of a dish – this week’s was chicken tikka masala – then travels around the UK and other parts of the world to find the best versions that currently exist. Then he returns home to his labs to conduct experiments on how to improve the flavour even more, before an unveiling the eventual ‘perfect recipe’.
Trouble is, the journey is far more interesting – and practical – than the arrival.
It is fascinating to see how people around the world vary the recipe and cooking methods used to create familiar dishes. Heston’s travels to India reveal the best way to cook the chicken in the masala involve the use of a tandoor oven. But even Blumenthal admits that getting people to dig pits five feet deep in their back gardens and then lining it with bricks isn’t going to be that practical. So he advises using a barbecue filled with bricks instead.
Can’t really see myself doing that in the flat. Or in winter.
Indeed, practically all his recipes, while they might well end up producing perfection, have these kinds of problems, typically involving preparation days in advance of the meal, superheating, supercooling and so on.
Although the show has the appearance of a cooking show, it’s probably better to think of it as a combination of anthropology, history and the physical sciences: you get to learn about other cultures, how foods have been traditionally made and how food reacts in particular conditions to particular chemicals. It’s great to watch – Blumenthal’s curiosity, love of exploration and general niceness are genuine pleasures to watch and the show’s glossiness is the equal of Nigella’s but without the shakycam and her somewhat irritating persona – but you’re highly unlikely ever to use what you learn in real life.
So, if you’re looking for a quieter, gentler, geekier cook than Gordon Ramsay and co, tune in to Heston Blumenthal. You won’t end up being able to cook anything, but you’re learn a little at least.