This is perhaps one of the most audacious cookery books you will read... Heston has taken 8 everyday classic dishes and sought out how to make it as good as it can possibly be by seeking out master chefs and carrying out in-depth testing in the research kitchens of his restaurant (The Fat Duck, named the best restaurant in the world last year) then by learning about the ingredients he found to be the best by visiting the artisans who create them.
What makes it so special is that each dish is assessed both culturally and scientifically in the quest to make the recipe perfect, looking at how tradition and memory shape the food, and at the chemical processes involved in the preparation, assessing things such as how variations in temperature, ingredient quality and methods and timings of preparation may influence the final outcome.
At the end of each chapter Heston presents his recipe which often draw on novel and unusual methods of preparation which overcome the limitations you may face in the home (for example you are not likely to have a dewar of liquid nitrogen for making ice cream or an oven than can hit 500 degrees Centigrade for making pizza, but he finds a way to get close to these).
These recipes will be quite expensive to prepare with the special equipment you may need to buy and the use of the best ingredients possible - though Heston does suggest to use the best you can afford, and I plan to use good ordinary ingredients for a couple of dry runs (not yet being a three Michelin starred chef who has cooked up several hundred practice versions in a well-equipped research kitchen I think this may be sensible!) Also most of these recipes require a lot of time to prepare and may not leave much change out of a weekend.
I believe everyone who reads this book will feel inspired enough to want to pick up their vacuum cleaner and paint gun and have a go at these recipes themselves, knowing that the time, money and effort invested in making these dishes will give great satisfaction both in preparing something resembling perfection and in the understanding of the food that it will give you.
One last note - this book was prepared as a companion to a BBC TV series; having seen the first episode I would suggest don't let the poor quality of the TV series affect your judgement - it is evident that a lot of the material has been omitted or cut down to cram each recipe into a 15 minute slot, whereas three or four times this would have been more fitting.
I enjoyed reading this book and picked up a few interesting tips, but, even though I'm a keen cook, the lengths to which Heston Blumenthal goes to to achieve perfection are largely beyond me. His TV programme and book are really entertainment rather than a serious attempt to help we ordinary cooks to improve our cooking skills. At times I felt that he was "using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut" in that the conventional method to cook something achieves very good results, such as making vanilla ice-cream using milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, a vanilla pod and employing an ice-cream making machine to churn it while it freezes. His method of using dry ice is impractical in that you can only buy dry ice in large quantities from specialist suppliers, its expensive, it turns into carbon dioxide gas quickly and its fairly dangerous to deal with!
I have seen Heston Blumenthal's 'In Search of Perfection' television series and his feasts and have always been fascinated! This book is truly an adventure! Each recipe requires a significant amount of time (up to 10 hours), but the results are WELL WORTH IT!!!!! What is amazing is that all of the recipes are designed for the home cook, and while they do take dedication, they are all do-able!!
So far, I have attempted the "Perfect Chicken" and the results were incredible! The most amazing flavor, texture, juiciness, everything!! Just note that the first time making any of the recipes will take longer than suspected-- yet the subsequent times will definitely run more smoothly!!
Give these recipes a chance and the experience gained is amazing! Plus, the stories are great as well!!
This is a book that is long overdue in that it tells you how to cook dishes that people actually want to eat! Unlike many of the modern chefs it is a relief to come across someone who is happy to cook real food for real people.
There are some good stories in the book and the photography is fantastic. I could hardly believe the time and effort that someone could spend on making a pizza but the finished product certainly looks nice.
I have to take issue with a couple of the recipes though. My favourite meal is steak with Black Forest gateaux and these are the two dishes I have tried to make but be warned - it is not easy.
It tells you to cook the steak with a blowtorch and then put it in the oven for 18 hours (true!). This just did not work for me and the steak ended up far too black and chewy. To be fair, the recipe did say to trim off any burnt bits but if I had done that we would not have had much left. As for the gateaux, this turned out very nice (although not as good as the photograph) but do be careful when using the vacuum cleaner on the chocolate because it is very hard to clean afterwards. Apart from this it is a great book and I recommend it.
Neither the Fat Duck nor the Hinds Head (The authors 2 restaurants) had the Black Forest Gatteau on their menu's and I really wanted to see if something with THAT much thought and effort could taste as good as the TV show would have us believe, so I bought the book to make my own.
The first thing that strikes you about the book is that IT IS NOT a cook book, far from it. It is much more biographical than that and goes to extraordinary lengths to give each of the featured recipes their opportunity to reveal their secrets and explain why they are such classics.
The aforementioned Black Forest "recipe" is in fact maybe only 4 pages long, out of a section of the book that is maybe 40 pages long. Heston uses the rest of the chapter to take you into his world of ingredients, he spends 6 pages walking you round the Amedei chocolate factory near Pisa for example. None of this makes you a better cook but he uses such evocative language that you really feel like you're in the conching room with him and smelling the roasted cocoa beans, It makes you want to do justice to the ingredients you're about to use. For me personally, gaining extra appreciation for ingredients was a fantastic by-product of owning this book.
Think of this as a cooks tour guide book, Heston walks and talks you through the regions that makes claim to inventing the recipes you're exploring on his journey, why specific tomatoes make the best sauce for pizza and why beer makes for a better batter. The book is fantastically well written, he makes very few references to the "sciency bit" that features prominently in the TV show, in fact it makes me feel the Molecular gastronomy title bestowed upon him is somewhat unfair, but you can be the judge of that.
In conclusion, the book is well written, well researched and an enjoyable read irrespective of your intentions of cooking any of the dishes. You will be introduced to a wonderful world of ingredients that many will likely be unaware of previously and if you do venture into the actual cooking bit, its remarkably approachable and fun, just be prepared for some funny looks when you walk into the kitchen with your hoover or the blowtorch from your shed.
In an atmosphere of competition and hostility among the country's best-known chefs, where barbed comments about one another in tortured autobiographies are the order of the day, it's nice to know that there are still those, like Heston Blumenthal, for whom the enjoyment, the fun and the sheer wonder of preparing mouth-watering meals is what it's all about. To eat at his restaurants is a delight, and this book is more in the spirit of his pub, the Hind's Head, with its perfect interpretations of classic British dishes, than The Fat Duck next door with its snail porridge and sardine-on-toast ice cream. Nevertheless,the spirit of adventure that first mixed white chocolate with caviar is present on every page.
Naturally, he goes over the top with cooking times and equipment that may seem a little out of reach in most kitchens (Private Eye recently parodied his style, providing a recipe that involved the use of a particle accelerator and nuclear reactor core), but that's the whole point: in the quest for perfection, no stone is left unturned. Even if you can't reproduce what he does exactly, there is plenty to savour. The result is a delight for anyone who loves cooking...or indeed eating.