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Heston Blumenthal on Anger, Therapy, and His New Priorities

Heston Blumenthal on Anger, Therapy, and His New Priorities

The sign outsdie Heston Blumenthal's restaurant The Fat Duck, which has recently had to close several times due to health hazards. (photo from Creative Commons user the_moog)

Damian Whitworth | The Times Online

While you are reading this what is Heston Blumenthal up to? Asked to name the one thing he absolutely has to do at the weekend, Britain’s most inventive chef is a bit stumped. There’s a long pause, an “Oh God” and eventually an “Um, I have a really big gym session … but that sounds really dull.” Another pause. “I tell you what. My wife bought me chickens two years ago for my birthday. One thing we try to do on Saturday or Sunday is have breakfast with eggs from the chickens. A pure fried egg. Couple of drops of vinegar on it.”

Frying eggs sounds like a bit of a busman’s holiday for the creator of bacon and egg ice-cream, but at least this paints a picture of a relaxed family scene. Then he spoils it by adding: “We forget most weekends.” Talking to Blumenthal, 42, about how he kicks back and relaxes is not easy. Not because he is hard to talk to. Far from it. He is a very engaging and forthcoming fellow. It’s just that while he may be the master of ultra-slow cooking, he doesn’t exactly relax the pace in the rest of his life.

The morning we meet follows a night out for Blumenthal with friends at the London restaurant Hakkasan. “I only go out four or five times a year.” Such is the price of earning, and striving to maintain, three Michelin stars and a reputation as one of the world’s best chefs. The Fat Duck, the restaurant in Bray where he practises his culinary alchemy, was voted best in the world in 2005.

All that snail porridge has meant sacrificing family life. If he had taken nights off or done the usual round of dad stuff at weekends he would not have accomplished what he has professionally. “I certainly couldn’t have achieved this if I had done that. Not at all.”

He has been with Zanna, his wife, for 22 years and they have three children (Jack 16, Jess, 13, and Joy, 11). Does he regret missing so much of their childhoods? “I do, I do. My son is 16 now so is at that stage where he would rather be with his mates. I admit I missed some time. I am lucky because my kids like seeing me, which is great, so I managed to get through it.” His eldest has even been doing some shifts in the kitchen at Blumenthal’s pub in Bray.

“My wife has been the cause of the success of the restaurant. Some chefs like to think we are the fourth emergency service but we are just cooking. It’s a very selfish thing we do. She supported all of that. If she hadn’t been that way, or had given me pressure about time at work – that sort of thing – it wouldn’t have happened.”

Does she never lose it with him? “Occasionally, but more about my general behaviour at home. I put so much into work I’m pretty useless at home. My wife does everything. She has been amazing. I literally never forget anything at work. At home … I lost my keys this morning. I don’t know how many credit cards I’ve lost. I do that thing: I’m missing my socks and stand in middle of room holding them. If I had to fend for myself it would probably be different.”