Australia is experiencing a culinary resurgence, and a certain Heston Blumenthal has everything to do with it. In a bold move, the 48-year-old British chef is uprooting his world renowned restaurant, the Fat Duck, from its home in Bray, England, and replanting it in the heart of Melbourne.
With preparations for the grand opening, you’d expect Blumenthal to be a little out of joint from trans-continental toing and froing, but he’s keen to chat; after all, he’s put his all into his Aussie launch. “I absolutely love Australia,” he says, “and will never fall out of love with it.” Blumenthal closed the blinds at the British Fat Duck in in December, allowing the 450-year old building time for a much needed refurbishment.
For six months, the menu will instead be found within the Crown hotel in Melbourne. From there, the Melbourne premises will become Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, named after Blumenthal’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, London.
Blumenthal is a culinary globetrotter. He’s a British food whizz taking on the Australian food market, who actually experienced gastronomic revelation in Provence, France, aged 16, sitting down for his first Michelin-starred meal. “We sat at a table under the trees, looking onto olive groves in the valley. I love the noise of crunching gravel and it must come from there – as the waiters, in their dickie bows and black waistcoats, came to the table.”
For the man who creates delicacies the likes of ‘rice & flesh’ and ‘meat fruit’, and requires a laboratory attached to his kitchens, nothing is ever simple.
Blumenthal is a man driven by perfectionism: “If I fail because I hadn’t given it my best shot then I wouldn’t forgive myself,” he says. The food maestro has enlisted a loyal staff to help him on his mission; his current crew of waiters, sommeliers and chefs will enjoy yearlong sun, arriving in Australia for a warm winter before returning to Blighty come British summer.
When he first opened the Duck, way back in 1995, Blumenthal was pragmatic about his prospects. “The kitchen is tiny,” says the chef. “The location is, some might say, in the middle of nowhere. And it is not beside the river.” Nowadays, the restaurant boasts three Michelin stars, but it’s been a long road to gastronomical success.
In the early days, “We had no money. We had no way of borrowing money,” Blumenthal remembers. “The restaurant was quiet during the week and our overheads were so high, we didn’t know what to do. When Michelin came out, the cheques started to come in. We talked to the bank and scraped the wage bill.” After the first Michelin star came two more, and the Fat Duck has since been voted best restaurant in the world “…and from that day the fax and phones went ballistic!”
The crème de la crème of British cuisine means that diners at the Duck are expected to allow a decadent four hours to consume their feast. It’s a far cry from Blumenthal’s humble beginnings in his mother’s kitchen. “We were not a foodie family at all but my mum was a good cook,” says the chef. “I remember things like half an avocado in the fridge, with a stone in it, and avocado was a luxury in those days.”
Now, Blumenthal might be known for kitchen wizardry – ice cream curry and thirst-quenching fish eyeball cocktails, anyone? – but it was simpler foods which caught young Heston’s imagination. “Tomatoes on toast for breakfast was a real favourite of mine – put in the pan with butter and they broke up. Oh, and sardines on toast and Coronation chicken…”
It’s unlikely that either of those dishes will be available at Blumenthal’s Australian outlet, but the chef lets slip he’s worked with, “movie directors, to get the emotional flow of the menu at The Fat Duck; the build-up, the delivery, the plateau, and the finale.” This kitchen wizard has mastered the taste – so let’s not forget the spectacle.
The Fat Duck
Level 3 Crown Towers
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006
Image credits: Alisa Connan, Romas Ford (Meat Fruit)