EXCLUSIVE: Heston Blumenthal’s tips for feeding fussy kids
As he prepares to star as a headline chef at the 2014 Margaret River Gourmet Escape food festival in Western Australia, DAD.info catches up with Heston Blumenthal to talk about spider soufflés, moving the famous Fat Duck from Berkshire to Melbourne, and feeding your little fussy eaters at home...
So, Heston, you’re one of the big-name chefs at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape food festival in Western Australia this year. Tell us about that.
Last year was the first time I’d been to Western Australia, and we were lucky enough to be taken by helicopter from Perth to Margaret River and you could just see miles and miles of beautiful beaches and vineyards. You’re completely immersed in this incredible area and it’s so driven by food and wine. Some of the best wineries in Australia are there.
The events range from chefs dinners, barbeques on the beach and discussion panels. What I think makes it so fantastic is that the chefs really do mingle with all the local people and visitors and the whole area becomes this incredible, energetic foodie heaven.
… Another thing which is really important is the table tennis(!) The first day we got there, we got this ping-pong table out and started playing and realised chefs are probably the most competitive human beings on the planet. We managed to get the table moved to the hotel room where we were staying!
One of the best chefs in Australia was doing a Q&A session and was asked what he was most looking forward to next, and he replied, “Going back to the hotel and beating Heston at table tennis!”
You’re moving the Fat Duck down to Australia soon too, aren’t you?
Yeah, we’ve needed to redo the kitchen at the Duck for at least ten years; I first had planning permission in 2000. There’s only one entrance to the Duck though, so customers, the deliveries, the chefs, the rubbish, everything goes out that same door and with no back access the building works will take four months minimum.
I couldn’t just close for four months and say to my staff, “Right guys, see you later, go get another job,” so instead I needed to move the Duck somewhere. We had three offers in Vegas, another in St Tropez which I even announced to my staff but fell through, two in Dubai, and one in Courchevel. I love my skiing but that one was completely impractical.
Because it was up a mountain?
Yeah, because it was in a ski resort over winter…
Waitrose don’t deliver up mountains, do they?(!)
[Laughs] Yeah. And also I would have had too much temptation to be out on the slopes, you’d never see me!
So when the opportunity came up with Australia it just made sense because I’ve been going over there for a long time: I’m Channel 4 so I can’t step foot on British MasterChef, so for the past couple of years I’ve actually taken MasterChef Australia over for Heston Week. Plus there’s the high quality of produce and they’ve had this unbelievable food explosion over there; the enthusiasm of the people is just unbelievable.
So we’ll run the Duck [in Bray, Berkshire] around to the 20th December, then all the staff have three weeks off for Christmas, and then they can go to Australia if they want. I know if I was a 25 year-old I’d be going; they’ll be put up in a minimum of 4* accommodation for six months!
Come February, we’ll open again in The Crown Resort in Melbourne, overlooking the river and run there until the 16th of August, which marks 20 years of the Duck.
Tell us more about this ‘food explosion’ in Australia.
I’ve never seen a food revolution happen in any country in the world like it’s happened in Australia! What happened in Spain 10-15 years ago was more about pockets and areas where there were some incredible restaurants, but as a nation it wasn’t anything like what’s happened in Oz. The effect that Australian MasterChef has had on the general public is amazing. I got into a taxi there last year and this cab driver was telling me about when he was a kid and he and his sister found a way of making an extra pocket in pitta breads to put pickled beetroot salad in. I can’t imagine getting into a black cab in London and having the same conversation!
So it’s fair to say you’re excited about relocating to Oz for a while?
I love Britain, but if I had to move anywhere I think that’s the place I could live.
What about all the spiders?
I’ve never come across any. I drove past a dead snake once. That’s it.
Ahah! So, you’re quite famous for exotic dishes like snail porridge…
Snake milkshake! Way ahead of you, I’ve done it!
And what about those huge arachnids?
Spider soufflés! You know what, people will be eating insects in the next ten years. Fried mealworms are full of protein and they’re delicious – they taste a bit like popcorn. And grasshoppers! It’s much cleaner eating a grasshopper than most shrimps and prawns. It’s just the idea seems a bit weird to most people.
Talking of fussy eaters, you have kids, don’t you?
I have three grown up children. My eldest son has just finished his second year at the University of West London doing a degree in the culinary arts. When he originally said to me, “I want to cook,” I said “I’m going to do my best to put you off: I’m going to keep pushing you away and you’re going to have to show me you really want to do it, and not just because you’ve seen your dad on TV. The only reason you should go into cooking is because you want to cook, and that’s it.”
Have you always cooked with them?
Sometimes, in the early days of the Fat Duck, I’d take my kids in with me on a Monday when we were closed but I had to go in to prep. I’d stick one of them on a bench and…
They’d help with the chopping? Did they know their julienne from their batonnet as children?(!)
[Laughs]: “They’d do bits, but you know what kids are like, the idea that they’d stay with you for a whole recipe is absurd, they’d be there for three minutes before they’d get like, “Right, what’s the next shiny thing to play with?”
Have your kids contributed to any of your recipe ideas at all?
The ice cream with liquid nitrogen, and dry ice – they’ve played with that. If you mention crab ice-cream nowadays, nobody bats an eyelid; ten years ago they’d go like, “You’re the devil! What do you think you’re doing?” but if you said, “Taste this, it’s frozen crab bisque,” they’d go, “Oh, alright then.” Even the name changes the perception. Whereas with kids they haven’t learned these silly rules or to think, “I don’t like it because it sounds weird so it makes me feel funny.” Children’s tastes in many respects are much more open-minded.
Have you got any sneaky tips on how to get your kids to eat vegetables?
Relax. The first thing kids can do to get any control over their parents is to refuse to eat stuff. They’re helpless in all other areas but they know they can just go, “I’m not eating that,” and as a mum or dad you just have to be patient.
Lots of kids have more bitter-receptors for certain foods like brassicas, broccoli and cabbage, so it’s not always their fault! The best thing to do is give them as much opportunity to try as many things as possible: just give them stuff.
And don’t do that thing where you say, “You’re not going to get ice cream until you eat all of your sprouts,” because you’re now making the sprouts ‘the devil’ and they become even worse, while ice cream becomes even more wanted by the child, so it has the opposing effect.
Also, as a mum, you have surprisingly massive influence before giving birth to the baby because the flavours are passed through the amniotic fluid so if you’ve been eating loads of broccoli the baby will more likely respond to it. The first sense to develop is the sense of flavour perception so, as a mum, if you only eat beef pie and chips, then your baby is going to be a bit knackered!
What I think is so wrong as a parent is, if you don’t like eggs just because you don’t like the taste of them, then you don’t have a right to stop your kids from trying them!
I think there’s a correlation between confidence in children and food. The more eating hang-ups they’ve got as they get older, the more confidence issues they’re going to have.
Heston Blumethal will be a headline chef at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2014