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In search of perfection? Keep searching, Heston...
on 15 December 2006
Having a three star restaurant viewed by many people to be the most exciting and cutting-edge restaurant in the world, you would think Heston Blumenthal knows a bit about food. I bought this book expecting a lot of interesting ideas, and the scientific reasoning, research, and foundation to back up all of his claims. Unfortunately, it utterly failed to deliver.
Rather, it is a series of poorly written anecdotes, with an abundance of factually incorrect information. He uses large words which he clearly doesn't know the meaning of, and offers scientific theories which he clearly has no understanding of as evidence for his claims. His 'experiments' are also completely under-reaserched and incomplete. Case in point: he tests 5 different varieties of potatoes for his roast potatoes, theorizing that their roasting qualities would have some relation to their dry matter content. After testing one batch of potatoes, he admits that the tests were thrown off by a batch of Yukon Gold's which behaved abberantly, "perhaps due to bad storage." He offers a token theory that it's bad roasting could have been due to glucose developed during this storage, but then brushes the entire test aside and settles on the Maris Piper potato. He has now spent twelve pages setting up an experiment, the questionable results of which were completely ignored! Why bother even faking the science if you are going to ignore the results and do what you want to do anyways?
To top it all off, the food doesn't even look good. Examples: The whole point of roasting a chicken is to get all the skin nicely browned and rendered. If you're going to roast a chicken at a low temperature and give only the skin on the breast a cursory browning leaving the remainder of the skin pale and flabby, you may as well have poached the chicken or made a poul-au-pot to introduce some more flavor. In his recipe for a rib-roast, the low temperature cooking is very well-founded, I grant him that, but why on earth does he brown the meat before heating it, and then brown it again after heating it? He claims that browning the meat before hand "kickstarts a complicated process known as the Maillard reactions." Kickstart implies that this initial searing with a blowtorch helps these reactions further develop in the following step - unfortunately, the next step involves cooking the meat for 22-24 hours at 120 degrees, a temperature far far too low for any Maillard reactions to take place (although it is a temperature ideal for bacterial growth). The meat is then browned again after coming out of the oven. Explanation for browning it twice, at two different times, by two different methods? None. At least he doesn't go so far as to claim that browning seals in the juices.
To top it all off, most of his ideas are borrowed directly from more thorough, more engaging, better educated, and slightly less egotistical authors, notably Jeffrey Steingarten and Harold McGee.
This is probably the most disappointing food related book I've ever read, if only because of the high expectations I had of it.
I had my mind set on going to the Fat Duck, but after reading the work of this supposed genius, I've come to realize that it's all just smoke and mirrors.
The book is merely bad cooking under the guise of bad science.