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The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, Heston Blumenthal | townfood - recipes, restaurant reviews and food news

The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, Heston Blumenthal

They weren’t lying when they called it big, this is a cookbook that requires a reinforced shelf to sit on. In many ways it's not at all practical as a cookbook, but if you bought it for that purpose you’d be missing the point. This book gives the reader a glimpse into the fascinating mind of Heston Blumenthal. It takes us through life at The Fat Duck from its early stages when Heston had just been awarded his first Michelin star to the late naughties when the restaurant was a household name and had three stars hanging above its door.

It is split into three parts, the first is the history of The Fat Duck and a mini autobiography of Heston that gives us an idea of what inspired his inventive cooking. This section is adorned with weird and wonderful illustrations by Dave McKean that really capture the scientific and creative influences that made Heston’s food what it is.

The second section holds the recipes. He lets us into the secrets of over 40 of the dishes that have appeared on The Fat Duck’s menu between 1998 and 2008. The detail of these recipes is quite extraordinary. Each one comprises numerous elements that require their own instructions and ingredients. In addition, the tools you need aren’t exactly what you’d have lying around your kitchen, liquid nitrogen being a fine example. Similarly the ingredients are a little off the wall. All this said, it’s not exactly a cookbook that should be reached for to decide what to have for dinner.

The accompanying photography of the dishes gives impossibly detailed close-ups of the immaculately presented food, including a slightly disturbing photo of the famous snail porridge with a live snail slithering over the top.

To give you an example of the complexity of these recipes, let’s take snail porridge. This requires six different recipes, over 40 separate ingredients and kitchen tools such as a PacoJet beaker (??). Surprisingly, this is actually one of the shorter recipes in the book. I would like to try one, but I think I’ll wait until such an occasion where I have a team of sous chefs to help me out.

The middle page is a fold out spread that lists the contents of the book. It breaks down the recipes according to where they were placed on the menu and the date when it first appeared is also given. When seen altogether like this, it’s an impressive line-up of dishes.

The final part delves in to what Heston has become well known for through his television programmes – the science behind his cooking. It begins with an introduction that introduces the essays and papers on the following pages as the inspiration behind his cooking. There are then 19 different titles by various writers ranging from ‘The Sense of Taste’ to ‘The Glass in our Food’. It’s pretty complex stuff, and I haven’t yet had the chance to delve into it properly, there’s a lot to get through.

This book is certainly one to have around on a rainy day, once I open it it’s very hard to put it down. There is so much to take in and the way it’s put together is beautiful. I’m not 100% put off attempting one of the recipes, but I think some careful studying to find the simplest recipe is needed. I don’t fancy bringing liquid nitrogen or Petri dishes and pipettes into my kitchen at the moment.

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