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1 April 2020

Heston Blumenthal: “People have thought I am loopy mad”

The celebrity chef on the moon landings, Greek philosophers and getting angry with his phone. 

By New Statesman

Heston Blumenthal was born in London in 1966. He is the proprietor of the Fat Duck in Berkshire, one of five UK restaurants with three Michelin stars. His inventions include the recipe for triple-cooked chips.

What’s your earliest memory?

Watching the moon landing on TV at two or three years old. I would never have believed that one day my food, in tins, would go up into space on a rocket.

Who are your heroes?

Joseph Campbell came up with the idea of the “hero’s journey”, a pattern that exists in the greatest stories of all time, from the Bible to Harry Potter. So I’m my own hero, as much as everyone else is their own.

What book last changed your thinking?

Inner Engineering by the yogi Sadhguru. He’s like the modern-day Indian Jesus.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Anaximander, the ancient Greek philosopher, was the first person on record to look up at the sky and think, “Maybe the stars aren’t moving, maybe it’s the planet.” He wasn’t obviously political, but, like Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin, he had a following and generated the potential for change. That’s political to me. 

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The evolution of the senses and our relationship with the food we cook and eat. Why does the shape of a word change the perception of something that you eat while you look at it? How can the music that you listen to change the speed at which you eat? 

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to go back and meet Leonardo da Vinci because I haven’t found any evidence of his relationship with food. I’d like to ask him about that, but I don’t want to be stuck there. Maybe just for a weekend break.   

What TV show could you not live without?

I recently discovered See, about a tribe of people who have lost their sight. It’s a very clever idea, with lots of tapping going on. Having not watched TV in ten years, I got through six episodes in a week.

Who would paint your portrait?

Vincent van Gogh. He wasn’t understood. In my career there have been times when I’ve tried to make myself understood and people have thought I am loopy mad.

What’s your theme tune?

A friend of mine sent me a T-shirt, and on the back of it are lyrics from “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen: “I’m travelling at the speed of light.” That’s me, but I need to learn to slow down in order to talk with more clarity. My brain works at a speed that other people’s don’t.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I’m working on it.

What single thing would make your life better?

Not having a phone. I used to get really angry with my phone – I’ve thrown one in a pond, one in a river. But, as I’ve learnt from Plato, it’s my relationship with it rather than the object itself that is the problem. 

When were you happiest?

In the future. I’ve had increasingly more moments of happiness, but I know I always have the potential to be happier.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A DJ. I love music. I’m obsessed with how the evolution of music has mirrored the evolution of cooking. And I have an ear! I can’t write music but I can imagine it. 

Are we all doomed?

If you don’t value death, then you can’t give value to life. 

This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021