The great gastro battle

Is it possible for amateurs to cook like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià? We asked two writers to put the star chefs' new 'home cooking' books to the test
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Will Dean

Cooks Heston Blumenthal

I'm an average to middling home cook, so it was with trepidation that I open Heston Blumenthal At Home looking for menu ideas to take on my colleague, Jamie. Green tea and lime palate cleanser? Hmm.

But the whole point of the "at home" books by these molecular gastro stars is that they also feature versions of recipes that average-Joe chefs like me can knock off under normal circumstances.

But even Heston's "normal" cook book is slightly weird. So, not to over complicate things, I choose two "regular" options for my starter and main: onion soup and spaghetti carbonara. As a nod to Fat Duckian experimentation, dessert is Heston's homemade raspberry sherbet.

Sourcing ingredients is no problem apart from the citric acid and freeze-dried raspberries required for the sherbet. The citric acid took just a few phone-calls to local pharmacies. But finding freeze-dried raspberries seems to be the gastro equivalent of asking for tartan paint in Wickes. You can find them, however, in boxes of Kellogg's Special K. The only difficulty is separating the flakes from the berries by hand...

Other than that, this particular Heston meal is easy. He does insist the onions for the soup are cooked with butter and star anise for seven hours, but that long gestation makes for incredible flavour. I top the bowls, as instructed, with bread, then a handful of Gruyère cheese, chives and spring onion. The verdict of John from downstairs? "The best soup I've ever eaten."

The carbonara is made the "proper" Italian way, with egg yolks rather than cream. It's as good a version of this quick and easy dish that I've eaten. Then the sherbet finale adds the playfulness that people will bring Heston "home" for. The sweet was incredibly easy to make – blend the fruit with icing sugar, the acid and bicarbonate of soda, then sieve. I serve the concoction with liquorice sticks, fruits and ice cream.

Overall? A success. The menu I put together could have been more complementary, and the dishes could have been trickier, too. But a mixture of my amateurism coupled with a paring down of Heston's adventure makes for a great meal. Next weekend: parsley porridge!

Heston Blumenthal At Home

(Bloomsbury, £30)

Jamie Merrill

Cooks Ferran Adrià

Ask my friends and I'm sure they'll tell you that I fancy myself as a bit of a chef, but tend to revert to the same favourites when entertaining. So I jumped at the chance to knock up a three-course supper from Ferran Adrià's new book, The Family Meal, instead of my usual Basque chicken or boeuf bourguignon. But what to cook from the first home-cooking compilation from the world's best chef? Tried and tested as the daily staff meals at the now-defunct El Bulli, the book offers a three-course meal for every day of the month, including such delights as glazed teriyaki pork belly and quails with couscous.

I opt for a vichyssoise soup starter served with a floating soft-boiled egg, slow-cooked lamb with mustard and mint, and chocolate truffles.

Installed in a large kitchen at a friend's house (three courses requires more pots and pans than my flat can contain) I'm quickly impressed by The Family Meal's format. The step-by-step pictorial guide is easy to follow and the timeline, which counts you in half-hour by half-hour to each course, easily keeps me on track as I boil down my leeks and onions, set my lamb roasting and mix my truffle mixture.

The bubbling (vichyssoise), fragrant roasting (lamb) and chilling (truffle mix) calm before the storm is soon over and Adrià's tight schedule comes to a rushed climax as problems start to arise 30 minutes from table time. Firstly the whole milk. It's listed on the ingredients but ignored in the recipe. This milky (and as yet unanswered) conundrum distracts me from the task of shaping the truffles. Disaster then strikes as I return to the soft-boiled eggs, with three in a row splatting as I try to peel them. Three minutes, Ferran, is clearly not long enough to give a boiled egg structural integrity.

Minor mishaps aside, the dinner is served on time. The results? The soup is flavoursome and smooth, the lamb tender and the truffles are rich and indulgent. But is this really a family meal? I'll certainly try other recipes when entertaining, but it's not cheap (nearly £12 for the lamb alone), takes nearly four hours, and even when made for six, struggles to feed four people. Perhaps the years of fine-dining at El Bulli gave Adrià a different conception of what a family meal really is.

The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià (Phaidon. £19.9 5)

Comments