Creative inspiration from the world of gastronomy
Creative Creatures – Heston Blumenthal
In Victorian times, turtle soup was apparently all the rage. It was prepared from turtle meat imported from the Orient, it was very expensive and it was only the seriously wealthy who could afford it. Those people with less money to spend on the luxuries had to make do with a version prepared with various parts of a calf, including the head, hooves and tail, to replicate, more economically, the diverse flavours of the turtle meat. This dish, appropriately enough, became known as Mock Turtle Soup.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, creates a beast that he calls the Mock Turtle:
Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,” said the Queen.
Almost 150 years later, Heston Blumenthal adds yet another bizarre twist when he serves Mock Turtle Soup in his 3 Michelin star award-winning restaurant, The Fat Duck. He gets inspiration from the Mad Hatter’s tea party, when the March Hare dips the Hatter’s pocket watch into his tea!
How does he pull all the strands together?
A very formal presentation of the entrée begins when the waiter puts down a cup with a tea bag shaped as a gold pocket watch in the bottom. Hot water is then poured into the cup and the ‘gold watch’ (beef and mushroom stocks reduced into a syrup, leaf gelatine and 10-year Madeira) dissolves into a mouth-wateringly delicious consommé with small flecks of the gold leaf floating about. Once the ‘tea’ has been made, the waiter pours it over a mock turtle egg (a puree of turnip and swede with little enoki mushrooms) and sprinkled about the plate are small cubes of pickled cucumber, truffles and turnip brunoise.
Time now to enjoy the Mad Hatter’s tea party at the Fat Duck in Bray!!
What’s the point? There are three:
- Heston Blumenthal has not created a product, he has created an idea. Ideas are much bigger and more valuable than products. They appeal to our emotions and sense of humanity. They affect us, they move us. We are loyal to ideas but we are disloyal to products. Brands have a narrative, they have heritage, they are authentic.
- Ideas evolve over time. The Victorian times began in 1837 and Mock Turtle Soup was first served in The Fat Duck in 2009. Great ideas are not developed overnight. They grow, they have a life. Like great dishes, they might take years to mature. One of Blumenthal’s other creations, Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, has been through over 40 to 50 iterations since the idea was first conceived and is now quite different to the original. The mantra that The Fat Duck adheres to is based around ‘Restless Perfectionism’.
- The necessary mindset required to develop big ideas is an experimental one. “The key moment for me was when he (Harold McGee, the American chef) said that browning meat doesn’t keep in the juices and that flew in the face of everything I learned in classical cooking. At that point. I decided to question absolutely everything.” Blumenthal stumbled upon the recipe for parmesan ice cream which inspired him to toy around with his preconceptions about cooking. He insists this freedom to try things should be done without fear of being judged, marked or of failing. Back in the world of industry, Sir James Dyson spent 15 years with over 5000 failures before he made the vacuum cleaner that really worked!
Create ideas not products. Allow ideas to mature. Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.
“I have this desire to keep improving so I find fault” Heston Blumenthal