For the past five weeks I’ve been following Channel 4’s series “Heston’s Feasts” in which science-minded gastronut Heston Blumenthal picks a theme or era for a banquet for six celebs and redesigns the food associated with the topic. So far he’s tackled Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (i.e. the 60s), the Titanic, Gothic Fairy Tales and the 70s and has yet to tackle the 80s.
Every week Heston himself is the star of the show, getting up to strange antics in all sorts of locations as he tries to suss out what recipes are good and bad by testing them on the British public – not all the results are that great. The joy of this part of the program is that he actually sticks entirely to the original recipes, so he’s eaten brains and raw blood, the vile stamina-foods of Sir Walter Scott and has eaten a traditional Moroccan camel recipe just like Lawrence of Arabia (that was the bit of the true story obviously left out of David Lean’s film!)
Heston then re-imagines these original recipes to make something more exciting and extraordinary… as well as edible – we’ve been given the delights of the Humpy Meal (camel meat redifined as Happy-Meal-style fast food), the Pot Heston (a non-processed, fun Pot Noodle that’s high on nutrition, low on those pesky E-Numbers) and blood risotto (really not as gruesome as it sounds, it’s just a posh risotto with a small amount of concentrated blood, or purer black pudding, with some red beetroot dye to make it look devillishly evil).
Heston’s ideas are nearly always inventive but sometimes they fall just that little bit short of the mark. In the weakest episode of the series so far, “Heston’s Titanic Feast”, Blumenthal swaps invention for the notion that he wants to serve the actual meal that the people on the Titanic never got to experience. As a result, his dishes were flat and uninspired and while all of his food must taste phenomenal, it’s hard to get the impression of magic just by watching some celebrities fawn over a plate. Basically, when the fun and games aren’t there Heston’s Feasts turns into a posturing, high-brow show that could easily be found on inferior cooking shows like Masterchef, or even The Restaurant.
Luckily though, that hasn’t happened in most of the episodes in this series. While that single episode was tedious to watch, Heston’s charm and intelligence are there for all to see – if you can stand some of the slightly sycophantic celebrities and their comments, the gastronomy on the show is brilliant. If you haven’t already seen any of Heston’s Feasts, please try and see an episode (er, just not the Titanic one!)