Q&As with Heston Blumenthal

Heston headed a nationwide search for the kitchen gadget guru of the future in the Finish Diamond Standard Innovation Challenge this year. Here, the Michelin-star chef explains what innovation in the kitchen means to him.

Q&As with Heston Blumenthal

What does innovation mean to you?
Innovation can happen on every level, from seeing a leaf fall from a tree to the most cutting edge design. Innovation comes from being aware of the world around you, being inquisitive and loving what you do. With all of these things in place, just relax and innovation will happen.

Great innovations can come from delving into the past for inspiration. After all, innovation and development, in general, are all relative. Innovation does not exist without tradition. Modern cooking is an evolution and not a revolution of what has gone before.

I am personally at my most creative when interacting with creative people from completely different disciplines to my own. For example, a perfumier, a scriptwriter, a magician or an experimental psychologist; even a lighting or sound designer can be a wonderful catalyst for creativity. What is so exciting is that being a chef, I am at the crossroads of sensory design because eating is the only thing that we do that involves all of the senses.

Who inspired you to be innovative?
Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking inspired me to be more inquisitive … His assertion that browning meat does not seal in the juices questioned one of the most biblical kitchen laws and made me inquisitive about everything (if this is not true, how many other things aren’t?).

What was your first food innovation?
My triple cooked chips from 1993 before I opened the restaurant. It has taken a long time but these are popping up everywhere. I have trademarked the name now.

How important are kitchen innovations to your cooking style?
I would say that they are essential. Not just to my style but more importantly for a professional kitchen to achieve consistency when you are working with a team of chefs. For example, cooking a lemon tart to the exact consistency used to be when the middle bit had a certain type of wobble but that was when I was doing the wobble. Trying to teach this to others who in turn have to teach others means a potential compromise in consistency. “I checked the wobble, chef” does not help when you find that the tart is either grainy (overcooked) or semi liquid (undercooked)! But using a thermal probe will guarantee the same results every time. And kitchen innovations give you greater control to get the best flavour or texture from your ingredients.

We embrace technology in everything that we do (cars, phones, TV and radio, computers etc.) so why not in the kitchen? Some traditionalists are resistant to this but it’s not the technology that can produce dodgy results, it’s how it’s used. Remember that, at some time, the liquidiser would have been a state of the art innovation! For any of these traditionalists, being a purist would mean that man should only ever cook over a naked flame or fire as there would be no electricity without innovation.

What is your favourite kitchen innovation and why?
Obviously the knife as it is the single most useful thing in the kitchen. We also use a sous-vide and water bath system for several of our dishes; this is a process whereby food is vacuum-sealed in a bag prior to cooking in a water bath at a carefully controlled temperature which preserves the integrity of the food during the cooking process.

I also love my flavour profile database which tells you exactly which aroma compounds can be found in which foods and therefore which foods have certain compounds in common. It has produced some interesting and unexpected flavour combinations. And a rotary evaporator, a device used in laboratories in which water can be boiled at temperatures well below 100ºC, allowing delicate aromas to be extracted from ingredients which would otherwise be destroyed by the heat.

What are your top tips for creating innovative cuisine?

  • Do not loose sight of the classical foundation. As with any innovation, only an understanding of tradition and the classical foundation can allow innovation that lasts.
  • Be open minded and aware that ideas can come from anywhere and, in particular, places where you would least expect them to come, for example from a magician.
  • Follow your own initial reaction (the blink factor). When we first started trying to incorporate the element of sound into a dish (now called The Sound of the Sea), we struggled with different types of sound equipment to allow diners to hear the crashing of waves and the call of gulls but nothing worked well enough. We were on the brink of giving up when the head of the development kitchen handed me an iPod to listen to while tasting the dish. Before I worked out what I was thinking, I realised that I was grinning from ear to ear. Now an iPod shuffle in a conch shell arrives at the table for each diner to listen to while eating the dish.
  • But be careful that techniques and technology do not become the main drive for a dish; it should be kept as a wonderful tool just like the knife or the food processor.

 

Have you ever used a non-innovative item in an innovative way to create something in the kitchen?
Every kitchen item was innovative at some point; the knife, the potato peeler etc.. However, you can use things like these for different purposes; e.g. a peeler for removing pin bones from a salmon, a spoon for peeling a kiwi fruit etc. Or the use of the pressure cooker to make stock; because pressure cookers are semi-sealed vessels, volatile aromas that usually fill the kitchen with lovely smells remain trapped in the pan creating a more concentrated stock.

What would you say to encourage people to think about a new innovation?

  • Have a think about some good recent kitchen innovations. Many of the ones that seem to work well are the ones that are quite simple. A set of scales built in to a blender, or a blender that heats as well are great pieces of kit as they make life easier.
  • Be open minded and don’t be scared to ask questions or to say that you don’t understand and look for inspiration from all areas.
  • Be aware that ideas can come from anywhere and, in particular, places where you would least expect them to come, for example from a magician or a sound technician.
  • Innovation comes from being aware of the world around you, being inquisitive and loving what you do. With all of these things in place, just relax and innovation will happen.

 

How has the dishwasher impacted on your cooking career/life?
It has been interesting to cook things in foil in it for fun!

What innovation would help you in the kitchen?
If I knew this I would be trying to have it patented already! Although I do think that a sous-vide system for the home cook would be amazing.

Have you seen a kitchen innovation before that you wish you’d come up with yourself?
The heating weighing mixer and the pacojet mixer. Basically anything that works well...

Top tips from Heston

  • Be open minded and aware that ideas can come from anywhere and, in particular, places where you would least expect them to come.
  • Delve into the past for inspiration. After all, innovation and development, in general, are all relative. Innovation does not exist without tradition. Modern cooking is an evolution and not a revolution of what has gone before.
  • Have a think about some good recent kitchen innovations. Many of the ones that seem to work well are the ones that are quite simple. A set of scales built in to a blender, or a blender that heats as well are great pieces of kit as they make life easier.
  • Don’t lose sight of basic tools and classical cooking techniques – as with any innovation, only an understanding of traditional methods can allow innovation that lasts.

 

Gizmo heaven

Gizmo heaven

Heston loves gadgets almost as much as he adores food – and he’s chosen his favourites especially for delicious. magazine. Here are Heston Blumenthal's top six kitchenware essentials.

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