Bacon ice cream, magic water and Blumenthal

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - He’s made bacon and egg ice cream and flaming sorbet that does not melt, now British chef Heston Blumenthal is looking at making magic water.

British chef Heston Blumenthal blows "ideas" bubbles as part of his presentation in "The Best of Gastronomy," a four day conference of international chefs in San Sebastian November 20, 2006. REUTERS/Vincent West

The 41-year old, known for his scientific approach to cooking and advancing techniques to develop unusual taste combinations, told chefs in Milan he was looking at serving a bottle from which diners can choose still or sparkling water.

His dishes such as snail porridge, parsnip cereal and carpaccio of cauliflower and chocolate jelly have made his restaurant, The Fat Duck in the British town of Bray, a magnet for food enthusiasts.

The self-taught chef learned the rudiments of French cuisine from books, working in various jobs to fun trips to France, where he visited restaurants, vineyards, cheese makers, butchers and artisan producers.

The Fat Duck was awarded its third Michelin star in January 2004 and topped an annual list of world’s best restaurants in 2005, marking a new gastronomic triumph for a country once known for other reasons besides its food.

Blumenthal spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the Identita Golose food forum in Milan last month.

Q: Who or what sparked your interest in cooking?

HB: “When I was 15 or 16, we went to France and my parents took myself and my sister to a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence. You ate outside under olive trees, and there was the noise of running water.

I can just remember the feet of the waiting staff crunching the gravel, the smell of the starch and the big aprons ... the cheese trolley was a chariot. The key thing was that I had never been in a restaurant like this ... I’m pretty sure I never had an oyster before, or knew what one looked like.

It was the contrast between having absolutely nothing and this impact was humungous and I sat there and said: ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ Funnily enough, I didn’t know what it was, I assumed it was the cooking bit but I look back on that quite a lot.”

Q: And it was from French cooking books that you learnt how to cook?

HB: “Yes. I learnt my French from translating word for word ... very sad, dodgy determination, I think.

What I learnt from there, taking vanilla ice cream, somebody uses cream, somebody uses milk and I just didn’t like that not knowing exactly why you use the ingredients that you do.”

Q: Your fame has been fuelled by your scientific approach to cooking with your name linked with ‘culinary alchemy’ or ‘molecular gastronomy’. How do you view your culinary style?

HB: “It’s just cooking. It’s just that. With the equipment and the ingredients, there are so many more things for the chef to use, but we’re still chefs. It’s just there’s more stuff available.

Like with anything the technology moves on, knowledge gets richer, and it’s translating that into food. It’s just that people like pigeon-holing things.

Now this whole perception that molecular gastronomy means foams and test tubes and things like that, it’s cooking. And where does science stop and cooking start? I mean science is involved in everything we do.”

Q: Tell me more about the magic water.

HB: “I can’t say anything!”

Q: What other projects are you working on now?

HB: “We’re working with lighting designers on how lighting can affect mood, obviously perfumiers, sound designers, hologram technology, all this kind of stuff.

But also at the same time, we’re working on looking at compounds in tomatoes that can really give a meaty characteristic.”

Q: What is your favorite ingredient at the moment?

HB: “I don’t have one. It just depends on what you’re cooking.”

Q: And do you have a favorite dish?

HB: “No. I know it’s a really boring answer but it just depends on what I want, if I’m going out to eat with the family or cooking something at home, or it’s breakfast time. It just depends.”

Q: What is the most essential piece of equipment in your kitchen?

HB: “A knife.”

Editing by Paul Casciato