Any man who sticks his head-chef into an MRI machine and feeds him chilli-infused oil to see which areas of the brain “light up” in response to capsaicin deserves my respect. When the same man puts several pieces of marinated chicken into the machine to see how deeply each different marinade penetrates, I am consumed with the urge to commit bigamy (sorry, Spouse, I love you and all, but you have never put chicken in an MRI machine for me).
Heston Blumenthal, chef-owner of Berkshire’s three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant, best-known for his innovative (eccentric?) approach to cooking and serving food and for his invention of Bacon and Egg-flavored Icecream, believes that cooking is as much a science as an art.
“In Search of Total Perfection” is a record of his attempt to achieve, yes, a ‘totally perfect’ version of each of sixteen basic dishes from different cuisines (amongst others, Peking Duck; Fish and Chips; Chicken Tikka Masala; Spaghetti Bolognese; Pizza; Hamburger). His quest for excellence takes him from Italy to China to India to America to Norway as he soaks up everything he can about the history and cultural context of each dish.
The real fun begins when he gets back home to his ‘lab’ in Bray, where he goes to extraordinary lengths to create what he thinks of as the definitive version of each dish (aforementioned MRI-machine escapades are just the tip of the iceberg).
Although ‘In Search of Perfection’ contains recipes, this is not a cookbook. You’d be hard-pressed, for example, to find the ten different varieties of chilli Blumenthal uses to create his Perfect Chili Con Carne. I also doubt whether you’d have equipment like a blowtorch on hand, or be willing to use a vacuum cleaner to prepare a Black Forest Gateaux.
If it isn’t a cookbook, what is it? It’s a rollicking read. The language is straightforward, the travel stories entrancing, the food science impeccable, and the insights into the mind of this talented, blazingly brilliant, and – oh okay – very weird man are a treat.
This one’s a keeper.