I watched the first episode of this program tonight. Verdict: disappointing. It’s clear that Blumenthal truly is an extraordinary chef, and must have unique and valuable insights into how cookery works; but In Search of Perfection doesn’t tell us what they are.
In the first episode, he cooks bangers and mash (followed by treacle tart). There is a lot of messing about visiting pig farms and suchlike before we get down to business. He makes his own sausages by what seems a ludicrously over-complex method that involves toast stock. There is lot going on; but we never find out why any of it is going on.
For example, having made his sausages, Blumenthal poaches them before finishing them in a frying pan “because it allows them cook at a lower temperature”. All right, but why do we want them to cook at a lower temperature?
It might not be fair of me to complain that the show he made is not the one that I wanted to watch. But Blumenthal’s reputation is based on “his scientific approach to cooking”. This has earned him honorary degrees and doctorates, and even an honorary membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have wished that this program would explain: not just what works, but why.
Fifteen years ago, I accidentally created a superb low-budget beef casserole, a recipe which has been widely used. A crucial part of this casserole is golden syrup. I know that it works, and I know that it is doing more than merely sweetening — but I don’t know why. I want Heston Blumenthal to tell me why.
I’ll probably watch another episode or two, but I am not optimistic that it’s going to give me what I was looking for. Meanwhile, I highly recommend the blog In Search Of Heston, where they actually made all 16 of the Blumenthal recipes, with wildly differing results. If I push on through the series, it will be partly as a backdrop for reading these accounts of re-creating the recipes.