Posted by: njbrown | September 4, 2009

Soulless perfect food 2009

I watch many, many shows on the Food Network. Last night I watched another of Heston Blumenthal’s shows in which he achieves “perfection” in a well-known dish. (Heston has been called a culinary alchemist.) Last night it was “Black Forest gateau.” (Why the British refer to a German cake as a “gateau” I don’t quite understand.) Heston started by visiting Baden Baden (I think it was), and having a true Black Forest cake. This gorgeous creation looked like the first one I had in the mid-60s – round, covered with real whipped cream, lovely cherries, and shaved chocolate, and flavored with Kirsch. Heston went back to his restaurant – named the best in the world and possessing 3 Michelin stars – to achieve perfection with his version.

Working in the laboratory connected to his restaurant, and aided by his team, he ultimately produced a severely rectangular block of pastry composed of a number of layers, starting with a biscuit (as in thin sheet of pastry), and including a gelatin/whipped cream composition, a ganache, etc. He sprayed the block with a chocolate mixture to give it a suede-like texture, and decorated the top with two strict lines of cherries. Each cherry was finished with a faux stem fashioned out of very, very thin strips of vanilla bean that had the top end tied in a knot. (The bottom end was inserted into the cherry.) This block of perfection was presented on a faux board and Heston spritzed the air with Kirsch to complete the effect. The problem for me was that it seemed soulless. There was no visible whipped cream. There was nothing that said “decadence, gorgeousness, over-the-top deliciousness.” It wasn’t pretty.

When I think of Julia’s desserts, they may not have been perfect to look at, but they looked good! They made you want to eat them and replicate them. Heston – like so many chefs in the 21st century – seem driven, but they don’t have the zest, gusto, joy, etc. that Julia had. My frustration with Heston has kept me awake for more than an hour (it’s now 2:48). Having vented my spleen, I’m going to try to resume sleep. Tomorrow I’ll write about my pastry instructor whose skill and passion were truly amazing. He seemed to achieve perfection.

Good night –



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