Book Review — In Search of Perfection


Heston Blumenthal, In Search of Perfection: Reinventing Kitchen Classics (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006). ISBN 0-7475-8409-5

As discussed before, foodways are a vital component to the make up of a specific culture or community. The exploration of food, at a very surface level, has become rather popular, notably through FOOD NETWORK. Several of the shows are, to be honest, dull and traditional in their intent and outlook. However, there are programs like Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphault that do a tremedous job of exploring history and culture through food.

You might consider Heston Blumenthal Brown’s UK counterpart. Except, Blumenthal takes Brown’s interest in the science and history of food and in the words of Emeril (or now Martha Stewart after the buy out???) “kicks it up a notch.” More bluntly, Blumenthal’s approach is even more methodical, and his search for perfection more obsessive. His restaurant, The Fat Duck, was Michelin’s 2001 Restaurant of the Year, a testiment to his approach.

In Search of Perfection, the companion to Blumethal’s BBC series, finds the chef exploring the ins and outs of eight of Britain’s favorite dishes. Selected on the basis of the respective popularity and the strength of memories and associations generated by each meal, these are simply dishes any cook should know how to prepare. Roast chicken, steak, mashed potatoes. Simple foods that speak to tradition, family and comfort.

For each dish, Blumenthal investigates the origins and development of the key ingredients. The food the animals eat. The people that correctly butcher them. The chefs obsessesed with aging each cut to perfection. He travels to France to eat chickens, and eats steak in a NYC strip club (so awesome). These individual quests are coupled with accounts of experimentation with ingredients. What potato roasts best, for example, and why. The history and the science of food meld in easy prose.

Blumenthal doesn’t have the same flair for language or description as Anthony Bourdain, yet his conversational tone and passion for the subject keep the chapters humming along. In fact, it is possible to simply forget that the tome is, after all, a cookbook, and get lost in Heston’s search and the people and places he visits.

The journey brings the mundane of the chosen recipes to life. Puts a little adventure in the everyday, and reminds why special meals are not only simple, but full of exciting historical intrigue as well. Blumenthal manages to turn the cookbook into a tidy introduction to foodways.

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