After years of trial and error, of sourcing rare ingredients and studying the results at a molecular level, Heston Blumenthal has finally come up with his most perfect recipe yet – for a TV cookery show, that is. Heston's Great British Food, began its first series on Channel 4 last night and was a delightful combination of everything Blumenthal does best: culinary history, edible pranks and memorable theatrics.
This week, in pursuit of inspiration for a four-course fish supper, Heston learnt all about fish and chips. With the usual irony of patriotism, it turned out that our national dish actually owes much to the cuisine of 19th-century immigrant communities. At least the tradition of eating fish on a Friday has a long and traceable history in this country. This was excuse enough to revive some forgotten dishes, including Second World War mock fish and Tudor mock mutton.
Heston is as much conjuror as he is cook, so unlike most TV chefs, there's little expectation you'll be trying this at home: you'd need your own industrial-sized laboratory to even get started. The entertainment value lies rather in the genuine risk that what he dishes up will cause his diners to retch. Certainly no one else was as willing to court disgust. "Can I offer anyone an eyeball?" he asked after unveiling a giant stuffed cod's head (one of Queen Victoria's favourites, apparently). And you thought the chip-shop pickled egg was unappetising.
Heston's Great British Food involved even more of this sort of risk than usual, because his diners weren't the self-selecting foodies who visit the Fat Duck or the celebrity sophisticates invited to appear on Heston's Feasts. Instead, he used Willy Wonka-style golden tickets to invite fisherman, fishmongers and fish and chip shop owners aboard "HMS Chippie".
What would they make of the entirely edible rock pool, the cannons emitting a vinegar vapour and the mushy pea ice cream? They might have been tentative at first, but as always, Heston's sense of fun proved irresistible. "It doesn't matter if you're five or 50," said one happily sated diner. "Everyone's gonna love popping candy in their chips, aren't they?"