Interview with Heston Blumenthal: Dubai's newest celebrity chef
Experimental chef Heston Blumenthal has confirmed that he is opening a restaurant at The Royal Atlantis hotel in 2019.
And while that may be news for some, it's certainly not news for us. We sat down with the world's most creative chef - and owner of The Fat Duck - earlier in the month, to discuss what he's learned over his last three decades in the industry.
Designing my coat of arms took about seven years. They ask you for your motto — you can choose it in English or Latin — and mine is: “Question everything.” Because the opposite of questioning everything is questioning nothing.
Eating is a multisensory experience. When I started as a chef, I had a memory of this restaurant, L’Oustau de Baumanière in France, that I went to as a teenager. We were sitting outside; there’s this big rock that’s lit up at night, the smell of lavender, the crunch of the gravel, the noise of the crickets… I just fell down this rabbit hole into a multisensory wonderland. From there, when I started cooking, I realised I was chasing the feeling I had as a teenager.
I have a sweaty head. I can tell the temperature of a room by what my head does. This is really sad, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, so I know the temperatures of the airlines that fly to Australia. Yeah, BA is, I think, 21C. Emirates is higher… It’s even worse when I hear it coming out of my mouth.
I’ve got attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, I found out recently. It was a multiple-choice test and if you scored more than 20 you were ADHD. I was 60-something. I saw a friend afterwards and he said, “Ahh, I’m really sorry about that, it’s OK.” And I replied, “What do you mean, ‘It’s OK’? I love it. I’ve just been given an explanation.”
Am I dyslexic? On. [Pause.] I’m not very good at telling jokes either. I’ve been lucky — or unlucky — enough to eat some very weird foods. Whether it was leeches cooked in goose blood or fermented shark — which made me think I was having an anaphylactic shock. And I don’t even know what an anaphylactic shock feels like.
The flavour preferences in Iceland are interesting. They have this fish called steinbítur [Atlantic wolffish] that they used to urinate on to stop it breaking down. I popped it in and it was like my throat had taken over and gone: “I’m not doing that!” I couldn’t have spat it further if I tried. It was like: “Arrrualayyy!” Probably that’s what comes of a country that spends half the year in darkness.
I love table tennis because I don’t think about anything else when I’m playing it. I’ve got a coach. People say, “I’ve had a tennis lesson,” and no one bats an eyelid. But you say, “I’ve just had a table tennis lesson,” and everyone laughs at you. Actually, it’s very good for defending against Alzheimer’s and dementia, though I think it might be too late for me.
You have to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn. There’s one car manufacturer in Japan where if something goes wrong on the production line, there’s a siren and a light above the station of the person where the mistake happened. Everyone downs tools and they all go over to this person. You’re thinking, “Oh, this is terrible,” but, in fact, they then cheer. Because that’s being human and now they can learn from it.
Nostalgic moments are incredibly important. Auschwitz survivors said the most powerful tool they had in their box — after they were stripped of everything — was the nostalgic moments. It warmed them up.
I used to think I was Knight Rider. I kick-boxed for 17 years. I have a bit of a temper on me. And I would try to bring justice to others. But I realised what I was scared of was a vulnerability. I was scared of saying ‘no’. I was a people-pleaser and, in fact, that’s the biggest bit of abuse anyone can do to themselves.
I don’t know how busy anyone else’s head is, I just know my head gets really, really busy. But when it’s in the zone, or if it’s something I’m interested in, I join dots and make connections.
Our patience levels are falling off the cliff. When I was a kid, if you wanted information, you had to get on the bus and go to the library. It was a two-and-a-half-hour round trip. Now all you do is press a button. And we’re freeing all this time up to do what? To fill it with more things that we want to speed up.
Working for a reward gives you long-term contentment. A friend of mine was in the England team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003. I said to him, “What would have happened if Australia were disqualified just before the final?” He said, “I’d have probably had the same amount of elation, but it would have lasted for a short time.” Then he thought about it and said, “I wouldn’t even want to be alive now. The thought of having that taken away.”
Eating is the only thing we need to do consciously to live. Yet we see food as a fuel. When people say, “I’m not interested in food,” it means they
really are interested in food but in a negative way.
Einstein, who also had ADHD, said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend all of its life thinking it’s useless. So many kids are diagnosed with special needs and if they are stuck in the framework of the current education system, they go to school thinking they’ve got a brain defect. But in fact, lots of these kids will be able to do things that computers will never be able to do.
My greatest achievement is the work I’ve done on me. I’ve managed to turn around some fairly strong memories and experiences that I had attached negative connotations to.
The energy we’ve created, [even] in this room, will stay on this planet forever. It’s like a law of thermal dynamics: you won’t get rid of energy but it will dissipate, become smaller and smaller. So, if you lose a loved one, you can say their energy is still here, because technically from a scientific point of view, it will be.
My aim is to leave this world even infinitesimally happier than when I found it. And even if I don’t, if I spend my life trying then that will be good enough for me.