Historic Heston

Heston Blumenthal perfectly interweaves history and modernity in his cuisine and his book.

Although most books in this blog treat books within the realms of politics or history, this doesn’t comprise the entirety of my reading interests by any means. Historic Heston is a very good example of a work that I have thoroughly enjoyed and which, although at first glance is a high-end cookbook, is in fact a unique synthesis of historicity and modernity that happens to take place in the gastronomic field.

Heston Blumenthal’s culinary tour de force is a supremely enjoyable read because of both the author’s attention to detail as well as his creative take on gastronomy as timelessess; in the specific sense that Blumenthal seeks to meld great lessons from historical recipes with modern culinary technologies and practices.

I do enjoy cooking immensely and have found Heston to be an inspiration in my own culinary pursuit. In fact, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Heston and of savouring his exceptional degustations myself. From that, I hold a certain conviction that enjoying his culinary preparations is an important element in appreciating his writings, and vice-versa.

Blumenthal himself is a unique figure in the Western gastronomy scene. Unlike virtually all other Michelin-star chefs, Heston never worked in another restaurant. An ardent free-thinker in his 20’s, Heston established the Fat Duck in his 30’s with the help of his father, and thus created what was regarded as the best restaurant in the world. 

One of the key elements in Heston’s work, both in this book and in his restaurant, is nostalgia. The “journey,” in either case, speaks to recreating lost memories, in the times before us and during our earlier days as well. His recipes draw upon historic culinary wisdom, mainly from the Middle Ages (and even earlier), particularly from the British Isles. 

However, he then infuses these ancient recipes with modern technology and best practices to arrive at novel fusions. The book Historic Heston builds upon that corpus of culinary works, and it is in my judgement a masterpiece. The book weighs about 2 kilograms and is filled with rich photography and visual elements. It is also rich in its historical analysis of the recipes and the culinary eras. 

The recipes aren’t for the faint of heart. I have tried to reconstruct some of them and found myself falling short of Heston’s oeuvres. I have some way to go before I can match up to a Michelin 3-star chef, it would seem. But the book is an extraordinary undertaking, and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in insights to a novel mode of cooking that blends historicity and modernity.

Historic Heston by Blumenthal, Heston (2013) Hardcover. Available on Amazon.

This is part of a series of book reviews by Dr Aron Ping D’Souza.

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