MELBOURNE (Reuters) - British chef Heston Blumenthal, famed for his bacon and egg ice cream, credits fans, friends and the “food explosion” in Australia for his decision to move The Fat Duck to Melbourne for six months while the Michelin-starred restaurant is being renovated.
From February 2015, the Fat Duck menu, staff and high-tech equipment will be all set to recreate Blumenthal’s 3-1/2-hour dining experience in Australia, featuring the likes of grain mustard ice cream, snail porridge and his Alice in Wonderland-inspired mock turtle soup.
The entertainment goes beyond smell, taste, touch and sight, as his Sound of the Sea dish transports diners to the beach with an iPod Shuffle tucked in a conch shell playing the sounds of splashing waves and seagulls.
The Fat Duck’s move is Blumenthal’s first opening outside Britain, where the 47-year-old has Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental in London and two pubs in the village of Bray.
The restaurant at Melbourne’s Crown casino will turn into Dinner by Heston Blumenthal when The Fat Duck returns home after renovations to the 375-year-old building near Windsor, England are done.
Blumenthal spoke to Reuters about Australia’s appeal, the disincentives to running a restaurant in New York and toying with the senses of his diners.
Q: Why have you chosen Australia to open your first restaurant outside the UK?
A: I’ve actually got some really good friends over here. The TV shows (“Heston’s Feasts” and “How to Cook Like Heston”) have done really well over here from the UK. I’ve signed up for this relationship with Brevilles (appliances). I’ve just started a relationship with Coles (supermarkets).
For me, it was looking at the location and the market. If I was coming over just to do a restaurant, it would be one thing. But I‘m over here anyway for the other things as well. We have massive Australian interest in the Duck. So many Australians come to the Duck in the UK.
What I love about the approach is Australia is much more open-minded through the food explosion that’s happened over here. I’d put Melbourne and Sydney in the top half dozen cities in the world to eat in, in terms of that kind of diversity of cuisine, quality, just the general food culture.
Melbourne is incredibly multicultural and there’s just an excitement and interest to try new things.
Q: Do you feel like you’re being a traitor to the Mandarin?
A: No, because The Mandarin (hotels) aren’t in Australia and I know for the moment they have absolutely no plans to be in Australia.
We had a really serious look at New York. They (The Mandarin) wanted to do it. We wanted to do it. But the biggest problem there is the unions. I’ve got really good friends at top restaurants in New York who said to me, “If you get under the control of the unions, it’s just never going to work. Don’t touch it with a barge pole.” (Alain) Ducasse and (Joel) Robuchon both left New York because of that.
The costs are completely prohibitive. You can go into the kitchen and the kitchen porter who’s washing dishes has pots and pans stacked up to here and says the person whose job spec is to put the pots and pans away doesn’t arrive for another 10 minutes. Literally, if someone drops something on the floor and you say “Can you pick that up?”, they say “That’s not my job.”
Q: Are you going to be looking at Australian ingredients for The Fat Duck menu in Melbourne?
A: We’ll be using all Australian ingredients. Instead of using langoustines, we might use yabbies (crayfish). We actually bought more Australian truffles this year than we did from France. They’re really good.
Q: Are there any unusual Australian ingredients you’ll be looking at?
A: I’ve never eaten witchety grubs (larvae of moths) and I really want to. Some of the stuff like lemon myrtle (a native plant) that we don’t really see. Saltbush, like a spruce rosemary branch.
But this is to bring most of the Fat Duck classics over here and to make sure that they’re exactly the same quality that we serve in Bray. That’s why we’re picking up everything. We’re picking the whole team up, all of the kit, the centrifuges, the rocket machine and the rotary evaporator.
Q: What does the rotary evaporator do?
A: It’s a flavor enhancer. The rotary evaporator can extract flavor from things at low temperature. For example, if you put chocolate in it, the chocolate and the water boils at 25 degrees (Celsius) (77 degrees Fahrenheit) and then you collect the vapor, so you end up with chocolate water.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for a creation like Sound of the Sea and what’s the process you follow from idea to table?
A: The process can take a long time. In 1997, I put a dish on the menu which was crab ice cream with crab risotto. I just found it fascinating that if you said ”Taste this, it’s crab ice cream,“ some people would go ‘Wow, love it!’ and some would go ‘Yuck, how can you have crab ice cream? It’s an oxymoron.'”
I started to realize that even the name of a dish can change your perception of that dish. From there I started to realize how complex flavor sensation is. It’s the most complicated thing the human body does. There are more chromosomes involved in that than anything else, including reproduction.
I then found myself at this amazing junction between the senses, being a chef, because eating is the only thing we do on a regular basis that involves all the senses. The effect of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell on flavor perception is quite incredible.
That’s when I started experimenting with psychologists, parfumiers, magicians, musicians, that sort of thing. When you start asking questions, a door opens, like falling down a rabbit hole into a wonderland, which is amazing.
Roast leg of lamb with anchovy, rosemary and garlic
1 leg of lamb weighing about 2 kg (4.4 pounds)
3 tbsp of groundnut or grapeseed oil
6 cloves of garlic, peeled, halved and de-germed
400 grams (14 oz) of semi-skimmed milk
12 anchovies in olive oil, drained, rinsed and cut in half
4 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard
500 grams (16 oz) of lamb stock
1. Pre-heat the oven to 80 Celsius (175 Fahrenheit).
2. Season the lamb with salt.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, add the lamb and sear until golden brown on all sides. Remove the lamb from the pan and place in a roasting tray.
4. Blanch the garlic in 100 grams of milk four times, using a fresh 100 grams of milk each time.
5. Cut the garlic into slivers. Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the surface of the lamb at regular intervals. Use a small spoon to enlarge the holes and stuff them with an anchovy slice, a garlic sliver and a few rosemary leaves.
6. Place the lamb in the pre-heated oven for about three to four hours until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 55 Celsius (130 Fahrenheit).
7. When cooked, remove the lamb from the oven, wrap it in foil and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
8. While the lamb is resting, place the roasting pan over a medium heat. Add a splash of white wine to deglaze, then add the mustard and stock and reduce to a sauce consistency.
Editing by John O'Callaghan and Jonathan Oatis