Ducks, Fat Or Otherwise

For most, fat is an ugly word. For some, fat is delicious, especially in relation to duck.
By now the connoisseurs amongst you already know where this is going. Heston Blumenthal, chef, TV celebrity, bestselling author and entrepreneur has , after a 3,7 million Euro refurbishment, reopened his famous restaurant, The Fat Duck. Leaving behind popular menu favourites like snail porridge and egg and bacon ice cream, Mr. Blumenthal now brings us ‘The Journey’, a culinary voyage rediscovering the savours of our childhood. Let’s hope Mr. Blumenthal’s childhood tasted different from mine. That said, his new menu, transformed, literally, into a map, Michelin we assume, will lead us from the sea through the woods to an enchanted place.

The last time somebody promised me an experience like that …

With dishes inspired by Alice in Wonderland, including rabbits in their tea and desserts floating through the air, customers will be made to feel like ‘a kid in a candy store’. The journey will take four hours and it will take seventy people in the kitchen to serve forty patrons. Aficionados. Needless to say, the experience will cost. 350 Euros to be precise, exclusive of wine and a 12.5% service tax.
But no need to bring your credit card. The Fat Duck has switched to a ticketed reservation system through which customers book and pre-pay for their meal, wine, service, and other, additional drinks. After all, it’s all about the personal touch.

“Every dish at The Fat Duck has always had a story, a reason for being. I wanted to evolve more than ever before, …. I wanted to also offer something more individual, with a tailor-made element to the menu which would combine all my discoveries thus far, of story telling, multi-sensory, playful nostalgia and memories,” says Mr. Blumenthal.

Foodpairing, multi-sensory cooking, chemistry and history, science and Mr. Blumenthal’s memories. It is all there. Pre-paid. Like phone cards, Disney World Vacation packages and funeral costs.

Mr. Blumenthal has been awarded honorary degrees for his scientific approach to cooking; an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Society of Chemistry, an honorary Master of Science from Bristol University, an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of London, recognising his pioneering research and achievements in his field and he is set to be named by the Royal Society of Chemistry as one of 175 most influential scientists of all time.

“But what about the food,” you ask?

The Menu:

Chapter 1:Are we nearly there yet?
Just the tonic!
A welcome drink, who will be the dragon?

Chapter 2: Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time
Excuse me, there seems to be a rabbit in my tea
Why do I have to choose between a variety pack and a full English?

Chapter 3: First one to see the sea…
The original Sound of the Sea
Can I have some money for the ice cream man?
Then we went rockpooling

Chapter 4: If you go down to the woods today…(and we did)
Damping through the boroughgroves
…we discovered the Mock Turtle Picnic

Chapter 5: Are you ready for dinner?
Main course
Digestif (serious enough for the kids, fun enough for the adults)

Chapter 6: Off to the land of Nod
Counting sheep

Chapter 7: And then to dream
Like a kid in a sweetshop

Confused? Me too. Still, with such descriptions, created by so many hands holding so many tweezers, operating strange devices, contraptions for foam and smoke, hot tubes, cold baths, machines that freeze, others that melt, tools and utensils, gadgets and appliances, the food can not be anything but exquisite and I imagine each dish to be artful and delicate; caressing and teasing; recherché, unusual, rare and yet vaguely familiar; an explosion of tastes, of smells, of colours and textures. Confusion and surprise, all in one.

Which begs the question. Is it food or is it … something else?

Food as we know it contains a primordial aspect, an element of sustenance. And even now, no longer foraged, no hunters or gatherers in sight, detached from the need of survival and often defined merely by pleasure, we still want something from our food. Nourishment? Energy? Satisfaction? Or?

Please Sir, I want some more.

More? Indeed. Food is clearly more than our daily bread, victuals, grub. Food is comfort. It is healing and feeling. It starts the day, ends the day. It feeds our bodies and warms our souls. Food is, pardon the platitude, love. Making food, eating food and sharing food brings people, families, friends and strangers together. They are acts of love. And love is unique. It is confidential, individual and intimate. Food should be that too.

I do not like to make restaurant reservations six months in advance. I do not like email confirmations and SMS reminders. I do not like the hostess watching her computer screen instead of me. I do not like waiters holding iPads. I do not like set menus. I do not like somebody telling me what I should eat. Or when. Or in what order for that matter. And I would like the cook, the chef to be in the kitchen. Not just the sous-chef. The chef. And I would like him to cook, not create, to cook my meal. I would like him to taste the food I am about to eat, adding a pinch of this, a dash of that. And, ideally, I would like the chef to, at the end of the night, the way chefs used to do, walk around his restaurant, greet his customers and share in their delight.

Cooking, like eating is choosing, tasting, smelling and sharing. We cook for the ones we love. We eat with the ones we love. And in the end, creative, original, groundbreaking, novel, fresh, unrivaled, unsurpassed, no matter the accolades, all food benefits from good seasoning and, so I believe, the additional sprinkle of ‘human touch’.