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Heston Science versus Domestic Science

I’m cross with Heston Blumenthal. I hesitate to criticise, but could someone please tell him to leave eggs alone? Or shall I? Here goes: Back off the eggs, Heston. Delia’s in charge of eggs. You stick to your liquid nitrogen and particle physics, or whatever.

The trouble with Heston is the same thing that makes him engaging entertainment: he cooks by powertool. This has a strong resonance in the male breast, but inevitably causes dismayed sinking of the female heart, mainly to do with visions of cleaning up afterwards, should there be any kitchen left to speak of. Thus, I tend to be in another room feigning sleep when Heston is on TV trail-blazing (sometimes literally) his culinary techniques. Whereas my husband and sons sit transfixed, with the same rapt expression on their faces as when watching Top Gear.

Which is fine when he’s making the sorts of things you wouldn’t even order in a restaurant, let alone attempt at home, but not so good when boiling eggs, because here’s what happens: a day or two later I boil eggs to feed my children. My children then tell me I’m doing it the wrong way. Never mind I’ve been boiling eggs for decades; at a stroke Heston has erased my untarnished boiled-egg record and furthermore used my children as instruments of correction of my own cooking methods in my own kitchen.

Worse, Heston’s advice is not even remotely fail-safe. I’m not saying it’s wrong – it clearly worked perfectly well on national telly (though with how many edits?) – but it doesn’t translate into practical egg cooking in your average household. Because, ironically, Professor Blumenthal has overlooked the science of heat transfer (aka conduction).

Pretty much every cook – home or celebrity – has their own unique egg-cooking technique. Because (Heston, please note), they have their own pans. And different pans have different thermal properties. So, for example, a cast iron pan is going to take longer to heat up, but stay hotter for longer. Conversely, an aluminium pan will heat up more quickly but lose heat rapidly when taken off the hob. Heston’s pans look like posh and pricey multi-ply (stainless steel with an aluminium core), so quick to heat, but slow to lose heat. Therefore his method of soft boiling eggs (bring to boil, take off the hob, leave for 6 minutes) presupposes a pan that will continue to hold heat. Whereas my method, based on Delia’s method, of a 2 minute boil, works with almost any pan because boiling water is always the same temperature. Alternatively, many of my customers swear by the Egg Perfect timer which has nothing to do with time, but everything to do with heat conduction.

To prove my point, I was going to attempt an experiment at home, Egg Boiling the Heston Way in three different saucepans. But then real life distracted my attention, time passed and Heston had moved on to chocolate. Mysteriously, his recipe for Exploding Chocolate Gateau appeared on my kitchen countertop (such things happen in children-dominated households). These phrases leapt from the page: “After the gateau is fully frozen, remove the metal ring by lightly warming with a blow torch” and “Fill the base of a paint gun with the melted chocolate mixture and attach the nozzle.” Suddenly there came to me the realisation that there’s really no point arguing with a man who buys cooking utensils from B&Q, and I decided not to bother with the experiment.

But, Heston, ahem? A ‘blow torch’ is what you use to weld cars together. A ‘cook’s torch’ is what normal people use to caramelise crème brûlée.

Just saying.

 

Posted: 23-Jan-12

Comments

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While I wouldn’t eat much of what Heston cooks, at least without adapting it (vegan), I agree with your sentiments.

I am male by the way but the whole idea that we’re supposed to be able to cook these things at home using all sorts of random machinery, pans that we don’t mind wrecking by burning things in them and several hours to make a simple dish like mashed potato is absurd.

It’s also become very clear to me that while he claims what he does is ‘science’, he has in fact learned to cook like everyone else, through trial and error. A few simple experiments don’t make all his cooking scientifically sound, most of what he makes is simply to what is his taste.

And really, does every dessert have to have popping candy in it? A few years ago it was kitsch but now it’s been done to death and he needs to get over it.

By Myname on 09-Feb-12

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