Heston Blumenthal, best known as one of Britain’s most decorated chefs and true culinary visionaries, has just released his latest book, Historic Heston. To call it a cookbook wouldn’t be fair, for Blumenthal goes far beyond any standard collection of recipes and dives deep into the murky waters of British cuisine.
The self-taught chef opened his first restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Berkshire, England, in 1995 and despite his lack of culinary training, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star after four short years. Since then, Blumenthal has been impressing critics with his uninhibited approach to cooking and his experiments with molecular gastronomy. The restaurant has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for nine years, and currently holds three Michelin stars.
Though Blumenthal has long defied the stereotype that British food lacks finesse, it wasn’t until he picked up a copy of the fifteenth-century manuscript The Vivendier that he was awoken to the creativity and sophistication of chefs that came centuries before him. Since then, Blumenthal has been on a decade-long quest to unearth Britain’s rich culinary history.
Historic Heston is a mammoth of a book, coming in at just over four hundred pages, starting out with a timeline, which spans from 1390, with the first English cookbook, The Forme of Cury; to a 1892 recipe for mock turtle soup, a creation inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The chapters are filled with British history, culinary anecdotes, and Blumenthal’s take on each recipe. Early on, he states that he has taken creative liberty with the recreation of each dish, as well as the assistance of modern technology. Illustrations from Dave McKean, who won a James Beard Award for his drawings in Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook, add whimsical refuge to the text-heavy chapters. Photographer Romas Foord has captured each dish exquisitely. A photo of “meat fruit,” a fanciful creation meant to disguise a seemingly ordinary citrus filled with minced meat, looks good enough to hang in a frame.
In a time when every half-decent chef is churning out a cookbook, Historic Heston captures a rare dedication to the culinary craft, much like Blumenthal himself. Although the recipes are not for the faint of heart, the book offers an unparalleled look into the neglected British culinary history.
Historic Heston is out now from Bloomsbury.
Alexis deBoschnek is a freelance food writer living in Los Angeles.