How We Met: Heston Blumenthal & Adam Balon

 

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The Independent Online

Adam Balon, 40

Balon, right in picture, was co-founder of Innocent Drinks. The company, now majority-owned by Coca-Cola, is known for its extensive range of smoothies, though it has diversified into areas such as ready meals. He lives with his wife in London.

I'd heard about his restaurant before I met Heston. You hear about the snail porridge, and the things he does with nitrogen – though he was nowhere near as famous as he is today; now when I'm out with him, people point!

He was a big lad back when we met, on a boys' ski trip to Lax, Switzerland, in 2005. Heston was new to skiing, so he was taking lessons, a chunky, bald bloke snowploughing ungainly down a hill. I thought it was ironic how we were enjoying amazing feasts of juicy steaks, smoking cigars around a massive roaring fire, while he was up there on the learner slopes, eating floppy cheese sandwiches.

As I got to know him, I realised how fascinated he was by everything, with this crazy inventor mindset; and I love how he takes you down the crazy rabbit hole with him. Once he told me about an idea for a drink that was hot and cold. He spent four years perfecting it, making half of it vertically hot, half cold, and creating a barrier between them. I've tried it: it's really confusing for the tastebuds but when you sip it, it's like, "Wow!".

I finally went to his restaurant several years later, thinking I'd be disappointed as my expectations were so high. But it was amazing: there was Heston, telling you how the dishes were made; it's part theatre, part amazing food.

Skiing has become an annual event for us. When Heston first started six years years ago he was just a learner, but now he's pretty damn good – and bullet-proof. We went to Val d'Isère recently and I remember standing at the bottom of a really steep downhill black run when out of the corner of my eye I saw something coming towards me incredibly fast.

I realised it was Heston, bombing it, and at first I was thinking, he's got so good! But as I continued to watch, I realised he'd overshot the [ski] run area and was about to hit the lip of a hill. He went flying, and landed in a heap nearby; glasses, skis, poles everywhere, I was really worried he'd hurt himself, but he got up, dusted himself down and went back up; he's a fearless man.

Heston Blumenthal, 46

A renowned chef and owner of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Buckinghamshire, Blumenthalhelped pioneer a style of cooking known as molecular gastronomy.

We first met seven years ago, on a skiing trip to Lax. I'm old friends with [former footballer] Lee Dixon, who organised it, and Lee's a relative of Innocent's head of marketing, who'd invited Adam to come along. The first thing I remember about Adam was that he had a very large head, like a wolfish I once saw while filming a TV show in Iceland. Not long into the trip, we were all calling him Wolfish; now we just call him Wolfie.

It was a great trip, ranging from deep chats over the dinner table to shouting over one another in a bar, drinking lots of Glühwein; we even got some skiing done.

Adam started as a much better snowboarder than I was a skier; my adrenaline exceeded my ability and his nickname for me became Piste Basher: I was bigger back then and I looked like a big bulldog trying to get down the slopes.

After that first trip it became a regular annual tradition and we became pretty close, seeing each other socially; he's been for dinner at mine and over at the [Fat] Duck. What I like is how frighteningly similar we are; I think we're both easygoing, and since his wedding, I've even picked up his dancing style: it involves a sort of movement that looks like you're shooing someone forward with the back of your hand, though I have to be drunk enough as I'm more self-conscious than him.

I think one reason for the success of Innocent is how the guys treat people; there's no ego with Adam and he's incredibly financially minded. Innocent saw a gap in the market and it's since cornered it to the extent that smoothies are now seen as regular [grocery items] as milk; all my kids have grown up with it.

We've even done a sort of casual job swap, with someone at Innocent coming over [to the Fat Duck] to work on this multilayered drink we created for a Victorian feast we once had, while we've sent one of our guys to help develop some of their vegetable pots.

I know some people might have felt the [brand's] pairing with Coca-Cola was a sell out, but if Coca-Cola [which bought a majority share in the company in 2009] had some sort of negative ethical history, those guys wouldn't have got into bed with them. And they're still running [Innocent] the same way; producing something delicious, but healthy.

Innocent is the official smoothie and juice of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (innocentdrinks.co.uk)

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