Heston Blumenthal is filming television programmes, running two successful restaurants and planning a third - but he's taking time out in September to appear at the 2009 Caterer & Hotelkeeper Chef Conference. He talks to Joanna Wood about his busy life.
Caterer Tell us about the Channel 4 programmes?
Heston Blumenthal We're filming six new Feasts soon. Things could change, but at the moment we're talking about doing one with a Willy Wonka theme - and maybe another using Grimm fairytales. And we've also just done the final day's filming for the follow-up documentary on Little Chef. We went back to Popham and it's still storming. I tried 10 dishes and I was pleasantly surprised that the standard has been kept up.
Caterer How do you rate the Little Chef project compared with all your other achievements?
HB It's right up there. One of the things that's really satisfying is that it's about food for everybody and up and down the country, not just gastronomic food for the few. Actually, it's made it in to the Good Food Guide with 2 out of 10, which is amazing. I never, ever, in my wildest imagination thought that would happen.
Caterer Tell us the about the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park restaurant?
HB Ashley Palmer-Watts, my head chef at the Fat Duck, has just been over to Spain looking at some wood-burning ovens. The kitchen design's just about done actually, now we've got to start on front-of-house design and get on with the menu development. By next May, I'd like to have 100-120 dishes sorted. The opening's still planned for autumn 2010.
Caterer What industry issues are important to you?
HB Staff training and motivation - and some employers don't always know how to go about things. You have to think out of the box sometimes. For instance, we give our staff English lessons if it's helpful for them, and we have massage and meditation sessions as well as in-house competitions and "employee of the year" awards.
Caterer Any other hobby horses?
HB I don't want to sound preachy, but it's really important for chefs to give something back to the industry and the wider world, particularly to young chefs coming through. We've had the Academy of Arts Awards of Excellence winners at the Fat Duck recently. I've also been involved in working, via cooking and the Royal Society of Chemistry, with trying to get more kids in to learning about science. And I'm currently working with the NHS at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading to try and get elderly people who've been hospitalised excited about food again.
Caterer Do we need specialised industry conferences like the Chef Conference?
HB Yes! The Chef Conference is more focused than general food exhibitions that run over several days. And it gets the country's top chefs interacting, which is always interesting for gauging where the industry is at and giving a window on the cutting edge of cooking. It's also good that it airs very important subjects that might, on the face of it, look less interesting - like staff motivation, the importance of British produce, etc.
Caterer If you had Gordon Brown in front of you, what would you say to him?
HB I would ask him to help artisan British suppliers by looking at the labelling laws for produce/products. Huge, fat slices of chicken, for instance, that never come from a real chicken but are made from reconstituted meat should be labelled as such. And I don't think mass producers should be able to put pretty rural drawings on any product with the inference that its derived from artisan producers. Consumers should be told clearly about the sourcing.
Caterer Is a "Fat Duck at home" cookbook still a possibility?
HB Yeah - we've got another cooking lab set up just for that, which means I've got three development kitchens in Bray, now. Crazy! The aim is to use some of the techniques we've developed for simple, home food. Talking of books, there's a new slimmer version of The Big Fat Duck Cookbook out - the content's the same, it's just set out in a more conventional layout and costs only £35!
Caterer Tantalise us with something.
HB We're experimenting with "magic water" trying to get still and sparkling water in the same bottle!
● Win tickets to the Chef Conference
The 2009 Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chef Conference takes place on 28 September in London (for details of the conference, go to www.chefconference.co.uk). Caterer will be putting readers' questions to our panel of top chefs - including chairman Brian Turner, the Ritz's John Williams, Knorr Chef of the Year Simon Hulstone, Charlton House's David Cavalier and Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree at Abergavenny - so if there is something you have always wanted to ask the culinary elite, send it in and we'll do the rest - go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk. Two lucky contributors will win free tickets to the conference.
● Give us your grouse recipes
The grouse season is under way and we'd like you to share your recipes and tips for grouse. If you leave your comments, you'll be entered into a draw to win one of two Amazon vouchers worth £50. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk.