Heston Blumenthal: Why I Love Melbourne

Photo: Julian Kingma

Heston Blumenthal answers a question about inspiration for his Melbourne restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, with references to Einstein, evolutionary biology and quantum physics. It’s fitting, really. This is the man, after all, who revolutionised fine dining at his restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK with a unique melding of hard science, fantastic imagination and fearless experimentation.

Blumenthal was in Melbourne this week, his first visit to the city since the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards last year and his first foray into the media spotlight after an almost two-year self-imposed exile in the south of France where he “became a kind of hermit in order to think”. Blumenthal was in town for planning sessions with the team at Dinner and to launch a new range of barbecues he’s designed in collaboration with Australian company Everdure.

Blumenthal say his ideas for the evolution of Dinner are “a work in progress” but involve raising consciousness about “the beauty of imagination” and how cooking “is the single most unique thing that human beings can do – it has brought us together and allowed us to evolve”.

Australia is prominent in his thoughts. The Kimberley and the Pilbara are places where some of the earliest life forms on Earth started and he wants to incorporate the wonder and miracle of our evolution into the food at Dinner. The award-winning restaurant’s menu has always been inspired by the past but this takes historic inspiration to the next level.

“There’s something miraculous about human beings that we have come to take for granted,” he says. “We don’t appreciate our food and how it has brought us to where we are today as a species. I want to raise consciousness, remind people of the process of cooking and how it’s just as important to who we are as other shared beliefs like mathematics or money or time.”

How will this translate to the plate? He hasn’t quite resolved that yet but says he’s confident Melbourne is a city where such ideas about food will be embraced and accepted.

“When I first came to Melbourne, the moment I got off the plane I felt my shoulders go down,” he says. “I felt I could breath. There’s a dynamism and an energy here and an openness of attitude that needs rescuing and protecting.”

“There’s a snobbishness about food in Europe that’s gone out of control. In Italy you can’t drink a cappuccino at lunchtime or put Parmesan in your seafood risotto but here people can say: I want to put Nutella with seafood because I love it and want to give it a go. People are all right with trying new things here and that’s something that should really be cherished.”

Blumenthal lists Supernormal, Flower Drum, Lau’s Family Kitchen, Cumulus Inc. and “any of George’s [Calombaris] restaurants” as his Melbourne favourites. “One of the things I love about the food scene in Melbourne is that it gives you a lot of everything. You look at a street like Flinders Lane and there are so many great places in just one street that it’s impossible to choose favourites.”

Blumenthal’s work in barbecue design also has him excited. The Everdure by Heston Blumenthal range includes gas barbecues that “are the most powerful and efficient gas barbecues that exist” but it is the electric and charcoal models that he’s most proud of and the new model 4K.

“The barbecues have an old-fashioned electrical hob in them that you put charcoal – not much of it – on top,” he says. “You push a button and the hob lights the charcoal and it’s ready to go in seven minutes. You can control it with an app on your phone but you can also move the charcoal around to create hot spots to cook different things so it also honours the charcoal and makes the experience of cooking more immediate and hands on.”

“The soft gentle crackle you get from the charcoal, the warmth and the smell you get from it makes it a more immediate experience, makes you conscious of the elemental nature of cooking.”

With Blumenthal, even barbecuing becomes a consciousness-raising exercise.