Sunday, April 20, 2008

Further Adventures in Search of Perfection by Heston Blumenthal

In this gorgeously produced and surprisingly thick book, Blumenthal looks at the preparation of exactly eight dishes: hamburger; fish pie; chicken tikka masala; risotto; peking duck; chilli con carne; baked alaska and trifle. However, he looks at the them so closely, there are times that they probably want to squirm. Blumenthal’s risotto, for example, takes only about 35 minutes to prepare... once you’ve dealt with the 10 hours of prep time required to make it in his way. While it’s likely that very (very, very) few people will make risotto in exactly the way Blumenthal recommends, on the way to the recipes, you’ll learn an awful lot about rice and starch and many other things you’ve probably never considered deeply until now.

Picking off where he left off in 2006’s In Search of Perfection, Further Adventures in Search of Perfection (Bloomsbury), Blumenthal goes to excessive (some would be say crazy ass) lengths to deconstruct a handful of favorites. “Ultimately,” writes Blumenthal, “that’s what this book is about the excitement and enjoyment of discovering new routes to the cooking of old favorites.”

The routes are extreme, to say the very, very least. For example, in order to determine if marinades actually do tenderize meat, at one point Blumenthal sticks chicken breasts into an MRI (this on the road to finding the perfect chicken tikka masala). If you’ve seen him on television, you know that some of the effort he goes through in his endless search for the perfection is… well… a little silly. Same here. But, at the same time, it’s a deeply interesting tour through a surprising number of ingredients and techniques by a man whose internationally acclaimed restaurant -- Fat Duck -- and OBE attest to the passion he brings to his quest.

“Increasingly,” Blumenthal writes, “I’ve realised that culinary perfection means not only mastery of technique, but also consideration of the sensory and psychological aspects of a dish.” If that’s a line that hits you where you live, you will love Further Adventures in Search of Perfection.

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