Heston vs Ferran: Is it possible for an amateur to cook like a culinary god?

We put the star chefs' new recipe books to the test

Friday 14 October 2011 00:00 BST

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. Parsley porridge? I don't think so.

But the whole point of the "at home" books by these molecular gastrostars is that they also feature versions of recipes that average-Joe chefs like me can knock off under normal circumstances – Ferran Adrià's spag bol recipe is even simpler than mine.

But even Heston's "normal" cook book is slightly weird. So, not to overcomplicate 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 just took 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 red berries flavour. The only difficulty is separating the flakes from the dried berries by hand. Still, it only takes me an hour...

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 an incredible meaty flavour. I top the bowls, as instructed, with bread fried in a drop of butter, 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 (and definitely made). 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 both more complementary (French and Italian? I know...), and the dishes could have been trickier options, too. But a mixture of my amateurism coupled with a paring down of Heston's adventurous perfectionism makes for a great meal. Next weekend: parsley porridge!

Heston Blumenthal At Home (Bloomsbury, £30)

Jamie Merrill cooks Ferran Adria

Ask any of 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 old favourites when entertaining. So I jumped at the chance to knock up a three-course supper from Ferran Adrià's new cookbook, 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 restaurant, 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 out from table time. Firstly the whole milk. It's listed on the ingredients but ignored in the recipe instructions. This milky (and as yet unanswered) conundrum distracts me from the tricky 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 does Adrià really think he's produced 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. £19.95)

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