Heston’s Feasts proves Blumenthal really is the real life Willy Wonka.
I was all set to hate the new series of Heston’s Feasts. I had a great time watching the first series of the show, but after a couple of episodes you do start to recognise the formula, as mathematically precise as one of Blumenthal’s recipes.
If you saw the first series of the show, or the Christmas Special, you’ll recognise the checklist for every episode:
- Heston lingers over a tower of hardback books in a library to research that night’s theme and telling us why this particular one, more than any other, is his absolute favourite.
- A course based around a gross-out ingredient (bull’s testicles, calf’s brains, whale’s vomit).
- Heston gets together with some chap and they graphically kill some animals (shooting a stag, chopping up live frogs, slicing open a pig to finger its intestines).
- Heston inviting members of the British public to wretch over repulsive test dishes or atrocious historic recipes (edible soil at a garden centre, the Frankenstein kebab shop, whale vomit hot chocolate for the panto cast).
- A grimly macabre dish where Heston tries to make the animal look as if it is still alive (dead lamprey heads eyeing up at the diners from the plate, a murdered stag staring accusingly at the dinner party feasting upon it’s flesh).
- A dish of something that’s disguised as something else (meat fruit, chocolate candles, bangers & mash rice pudding).
- A wild-goose-chase for spectacular centrepiece that won’t get eaten (a giant vibrator-filled jelly, rogue taxidermy at the plastic surgeons, the wicker stag).
- Heston travelling to a not-too-far-off land to source and research his ingredients (French absinthe, American turtles, Latvian lampreys)
- A barmy food eccentric (an Italian butcher with a hat made of animal bones or the forest-dwelling mouse hunters of Slovenia).
- A sceptical dinner guest who is eventually won over by the inventiveness of the meal (Kelvin Mackenzie, Mariella Frostrup).
Lucky viewers might also be treated to i) some laboratory equipment repurposed for the kitchen ii) dazzling dinnertable pyrotechnics iii) Heston and the other Fat Duck chefs mucking about in the car park or upstairs research lab.
There are times watching this series that you know Blumenthal is playing up to the cameras, trying to be even more weird, wacky, gross and geeky than his tabloid stereotype. As if the ultimate goal of each programme is to get a mention on the coming Saturday’s Harry Hill show.
Remember how each episode of Kitchen Nightmares USA follows exactly the same pattern? That was my fear for the second series of Feasts, that as much as I love Heston I’d just be bored by the show’s repetitive format.
Which wasn’t the case, as it was actually brilliant.
It’s business as usual from the very start, but with the tower of hardbacks in a library swapped for a slender children’s paperback in a traditional sweet shop. Then the obligatory scene-setting cheeky animation. I love these.
Five minutes into the show I was having a great time. Probably not quite as great as the often quite random Z-listers being treated to a meticulously planned one-off meal by one of the top chefs on the planet. But still a very good time.
It’s all wonderfully enjoyable and daft way, revolving around Blumenthal’s central premise that food should be fun. Even the usual clichés brought a smile to my face, some examples being…
- Deliberate weirdness
- Travelling abroad to chase a rare ingredient
- The man obsessed with a single food
- Nauseating the British public
- Foods pretending to be other foods.
- Impressive but inedible centrepieces
- Guest appearances from lab equipment
…And so on.
My favourite in-joke was Heston’s criticism of his 60’s version of duck à l’orange. One reason he slates it is that “it’s cold”. Cold??? Eat at the Fat Duck and you’ll struggle to find a single dish that’s served above tepid.
Everyone compares Heston to Willy Wonka, and this episode really revelled in the chance to make a direct comparison. Accept it for it’s formula and it’s probably the most fun food show on the telly .
But did you see it, and did you enjoy it as much? Let us know what you think.