Heston Blumenthal is back with what may be his weirdest idea yet

Why you should eat Christmas pudding first! For ten years, Heston Blumenthal has revolutionised our festive food, from ‘edibaubles’ to melting chocolate sprouts – Now the self-confessed ‘mad scientist’ is back with what may be his weirdest idea yet

  • Heston Blumenthal is renowned for creating bizarre flavour combinations
  • The British chef’s latest supermarket range includes edible candles
  • He also argues that you should actually eat your Christmas pudding first

What does Heston Blumenthal, the man who brought us snail porridge, crab ice cream and pine – scented mince pies, cook for Christmas dinner? 

If his latest supermarket range is anything to go by, there will be edible candles on the Blumenthal table this year, along with gold-dusted salmon and a plum pudding doused in balsamic vinegar. So far, so Heston. 

So I’m almost disappointed when he tells me the reality is strictly traditional: turkey (or chicken or goose; he hasn’t yet decided), stuffed with truffle, roasted and served with all the trimmings. Is that it? But it turns out the wacky bit isn’t what he’ll cook, it’s how he’s going to eat it: backwards. ‘I’m seriously going to do it in reverse this year,’ says Heston. 

‘I’ve done it three times now for other meals and the difference was incredible. ‘My senses were surprised; it was the same food, but it was more pleasant and arresting. By having dessert first you end up eating less sweet stuff, and it’s better for your digestion, as you’re not getting a wallop of sugar at the end.’ 

Heston Blumenthal (pictured) is renowned for creating bizarre flavour combinations and the chef’s latest supermarket range is no different as it includes edible candles

After a topsy-turvy year, a back-to-front Christmas dinner seems strangely fitting. And if you think it’s too early to be talking all things festive, well, the rest of the country firmly disagrees. 

Nigella set Twitter alight with a glittering Christmas tree in the first episode of her new cookery series last week, while Dame Joan Collins has already posted a picture of her tree on Instagram — and sales of fairy lights and wreaths are up almost 50 per cent at John Lewis. 

Christmas 2020, it seems, can’t come early enough. Although when it comes to eating back-to-front, I can’t help but feel for Heston’s wife, Stephanie, and two-year-old daughter, Shea-Rose, having to put up with yet another madcap scheme. 

The rural French farmhouse where they live — having quit London for peaceful Provence in 2018 — is filled to the rafters with culinary experiments. On a cabinet against the wall are three jars filled with equal amounts of rice and water, which he’s been ‘talking’ to for several weeks. 

‘I’ve done this ten times now and the results are always the same,’ he says, bubbling with enthusiasm. Sure enough, one jar — which he’s been ignoring — is rotten and decayed, while another — lavished with affection — looks fluffy and fresh. 

This is just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from the 54-year-old chef, the man who introduced the nation to ‘molecular gastronomy’, created lickable wallpaper and stuck a whole orange inside a Christmas pudding. 

Since Heston opened his first restaurant 25 years ago a lot has changed including the end of his 28-year marriage to childhood sweetheart Zanna (together, left) in 2017. He has since remarried wife Stephanie (together, right)

And yet, somehow his approach seems to work. Or at least keeps us endlessly fascinated. Once a rebellious upstart looking to rock the establishment, Heston has been at the forefront of Britain’s culinary scene for almost three decades. 

His first restaurant, The Fat Duck at Bray in Berkshire, which boasts three Michelin stars and an eye-watering £325-a-head tasting menu, opened its doors 25 years ago. This year also marks a decade since his first range for supermarket Waitrose. 

A lot has changed, not least personally: a divorce, a second marriage, the birth of his fourth child — and a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which, he says, has gone some way to helping him understand his ‘busy mind’. 

‘I had a period — around seven or eight years ago — where I was driving myself into the ground, working all hours of the day and night,’ he says. That’s around the time he slowly disappeared from our TV screens after trotting out a series of cooking shows for Channel 4, from Heston’s Feasts to Heston’s Fantastical Food. 

‘I couldn’t cook because it was connecting me with all the frustrating things in the business that weren’t going the way I wanted. 

Heston has insisted that you should in fact eat your Christmas pudding first (stock image) as ‘it’s better for your digestion’

‘I felt like one of those old gunslingers who hangs up his gun. ‘It sounds cheesy, but being here in France, where I have a connection with nature, I’m falling back in love with cooking. 

‘It’s not an excuse but being aware of my ADHD and understanding more about it makes a big difference. 

‘For example, I used to go to the supermarket and buy random things and forget why I went there in the first place. ‘Here, in the village, I don’t have that choice: there’s one butcher, one baker and one supermarket that stocks maybe 20 types of fruit and veg.’ 

Before interviewing him, I wondered if the ‘mad scientist’ persona he exudes is hammed up for TV — but it’s clear it’s all him. He bounces boisterously from one topic to the next. But he’s also warm and genuine, referring to himself as ‘a bit loopy’. 

The OTT menu at The Fat Duck, where one course is designed to be eaten while listening to seaside sounds emanating from an iPod inside a giant conch shell, is a particular point of ridicule for critics. 

But he is adamant his Waitrose range has made his sort of food — and way of thinking — accessible to the masses. 

His first restaurant, The Fat Duck (pictured) at Bray in Berkshire, which boasts three Michelin stars and an eye-watering £325-a-head tasting menu, opened its doors 25 years ago

‘Our approach to food has changed massively in ten years,’ he says. 

‘People are more adventurous. Now they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at crab ice cream but, when I first put it on the menu at the Duck, they thought, ‘Ugh, that’s disgusting’. 

‘Whatever it is — toast, raisins, apples, cereal — I want people to come away thinking, ‘Wow, I’m never going to look at that in the same way again’. And I’d like to bring that into people’s homes — not just exclusive, expensive restaurants.’ 

These days, Heston spends less time in his restaurants and more at home with Stephanie, a French estate agent 20 years his junior, Shea-Rose, and ten-year-old Luna, Stephanie’s daughter from a previous relationship. 

He may have three grown-up children already — his 28-year marriage to childhood sweetheart Zanna ended in 2017 — but he says he’s learning lots from his youngest daughter’s approach to food. 

‘I just love to see kids eating,’ he says. ‘Before their language is fully developed, they have so much freedom: they don’t know what’s right or wrong.’ 

He’s a fan of trendy, baby-led weaning but acknowledges the theory isn’t always easy to put into practice. 

‘That’s all very well in principle; in real life you’re trying to make sure they eat enough and eat the right foods, and you’ve got other things to do as well.’ 

It’s all refreshingly normal but we’re verging on dangerous territory. Heston got himself in hot water last year when he claimed women’s biological clock — and, bizarrely, the difficulty of lifting heavy pots and pans after childbirth — stops them from becoming top chefs. 

He was labelled a ‘dinosaur’ but is, in his home life, at least, trying to make amends. He and Stephanie, who wed in the Maldives in 2018, are very much co-parents, he says, sharing household chores and childcare (at least, whenever he’s around). 

Born in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, Heston grew up eating bland 1970s dishes. 

‘There was only one type of spaghetti, in a green packet, and you had to buy olive oil from the chemist for blocked ears,’ he says. 

‘I didn’t know what an oyster was, let alone how it tasted.’ 

But he had an epiphany aged 16, during a family holiday, when his parents took Heston and his sister Alexis to a Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux-de-­Provence — 15 minutes from where he now lives. 

‘I was thrown into this complete multi-sensory environment: the noise of the crickets, the crunch of the gravel, the chink of the glasses, the smell of the lavender. I’d never experienced anything like it.’ 

It would be another 13 years — during which he worked as a salesman and debt collector, indulging his passion for cooking at weekends — before he opened his first restaurant, buying a tumbledown pub in Berkshire and renaming it The Fat Duck. 

Fast-forward 25 years and it has been named the world’s best restaurant, while Dinner — his haute cuisine offering in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel — has been awarded two Michelin stars. ‘I know it’s easy to criticise something when you’ve won it, but you can’t have a ‘best’ restaurant,’ he says. 

‘One night you might want a Domino’s in a cardboard box, and the next night you might want a true Naples pizza. That’s the beauty of food. It can enrich people’s lives. 

‘That sounds a bit godlike, but I do think it can make people’s lives more exciting.’ 

Hence the supermarket range. We have embraced hundreds of unlikely products — dreamed up by Heston and his team, cooked by Waitrose’s development chefs and then tasted up to 20 times by Heston himself — including chocolate Scotch eggs, a bananaand-bacon trifle and mustard ice cream. 

This year’s highlights include a rather wonderful-sounding gin infused with ‘sunshine’ (Mediterranean basil, rosemary and lavender) and the somewhat off-putting full English sandwich, featuring coffee-flavoured ketchup and baked-bean bread. 

‘If you discombobulate people too much they don’t know where they are,’ Heston says. 

‘I don’t want people to be shocked. I want them to feel curious and playful. If it works, you can see the surprise and pleasure in their faces, and that’s amazing.’ 

He’s still involved in The Fat Duck, and this year he returned to our screens after a six-year hiatus for Crazy Delicious, Channel 4’s fairy tale-themed cooking show. Coronavirus has, of course, had a damaging impact on his work, with the latest lockdown forcing restaurants to shut their doors again. 

‘Obviously it’s had a major impact on the business from a cashflow point of view,’ he says. 

‘I have a big team of incredibly hard-working staff. What they do is a labour of love and to have that taken away has a negative effect. 

‘But somehow — and it won’t be easy — we have to find some good in this situation. I think what I’m saying is that we have it in us to overcome this. It’s never too late. Our greatest freedom is to choose how we respond to things.’ Our interview seems to have turned into a therapy session — and I’m not entirely sure which of us is the therapist. 

Abruptly, he stops and asks if I drink wine. Increasingly, I tell him. ‘Next time you have a glass of red wine, close your eyes and take two sips,’ he says. ‘With the first sip, think of someone you love — and notice how it tastes smooth and delicious. 

With the second, think of someone who fills you with anger or jealousy. It’ll taste bitter and sharp, like a different wine.’ Those who say Heston lives in a different world to the rest of us might have a point. But, at times like these, I’ll raise a glass to that.

Inventive but does Heston’s festive fare pass the taste test?

Cookery writer Sarah Rainey gives her verdict on this year’s Heston From Waitrose range… 

Night Before Christmas Mince Pies 

£3 for four 

Night Before Christmas Mince Pies

Encased in carrot and caraway shortcrust pastry, these taste like a quiche at first. But the sweet, spiced mincemeat balances the flavour. 5/5 

Chocolate Bucks Fizz Candles 

£9 for 150g 

Chocolate Bucks Fizz Candles

Why anyone would want to eat a candle — even one made of velvety white chocolate — is beyond me. The champagne and orange ganache inside is creamy and delicious, but all I can think of is wax. 0/5 

Full English Sandwich 


Full English Sandwich

This fried breakfast sandwich is made with baked-bean bread and coffee-flavoured mushroom ketchup. It’s not for me: the filling is stodgy and there’s an unappealing taste of cold baked beans. The only nice bit is the smoky bacon. 2/5 

Sherry and Balsamic Vinegar Pudding 

£14 for 800g 

Sherry and Balsamic Vinegar Pudding

A clever twist on Christmas pud, Heston’s doused this one — made from sultanas — in the drinks cabinet: cider, sherry, port and, here’s the odd bit, balsamic vinegar. It’s rich and brilliantly boozy. 4/5 

Tipsy Stollen Slices 

£4 for 569g 

I’m not a stollen fan, but this might just convert me. Made from brioche dough, it’s jam-packed with sultanas, pineapple and chunks of fudge, then dipped in rum, butter and filled with marzipan. A single portion is laden with fat, sugar and calories — but Christmas is all about indulgence. 4/5 

Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding 

£16 for 1.2kg 

Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding

Ten years after its debut, the hidden orange pudding is still a bestseller. Many will disagree, but I don’t rate it; the citrussy centre overpowers the other lovely fruit. Sure, slicing into it is spectacular, but the taste doesn’t live up to the hype. 3/5 

Lazy Sunshine Gin 

£20 for 70cl 

Lazy Sunshine Gin

Inspired by Heston’s beloved Provence, a sip of this transports me to a Mediterranean paradise. I’ve never tasted sunshine, but I don’t imagine it’s far off. There’s a slight medicinal edge (thyme), but the basil, rosemary and lavender make it fragrant, fresh and moreish. 5/5

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