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Perfect(ing) Heston

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is…

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is his kitchen. I was privileged to meet this culinary genius and learned what it takes to be a Michelin Star chef. 

Heston Blumenthal_by deborah chan

Described as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist, Heston Blumenthal has definitely piqued the interest of chefs, gourmets and home cooks all over. His award winning TV series “In Search of Perfection” is mind blowing yet simple, which makes for an interesting watch. He makes poaching eggs and roasting potatoes somewhat of an experiment with meticulous instructions that entail specific temperature and precise technique. All of which results in a perfect dish – tried, tested and approved by the perfectionist himself.

Ironically, he looks less of a geek than I thought. Clad in a casual dark blue tank top, jeans and his famous thick framed glasses, Blumenthal, 47, exudes a childlike enthusiasm and perpetual chattiness when it comes to conversations about food. His excitement is contagious and his inquisitiveness is infectious. When describing how to make spaghetti bolognese, he chimes, “Did you know that whenever you’re making a meat-sauce using onions, you should add a hint of star anise? It reacts with the sulphur compounds and increases the flavour of meatiness?”

One would think a guy like him would have aced science in school, but that was the contrary. “I’d been intrigued with food from a young age but had failed science at school, though I got an A in Art so there was some creativity there.”

heston

Heston Blumenthal is often referred to as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist. Credits: www.telegraph.co.uk

This enthusiasm coupled with creative genius and lots of hard work is what propelled him to culinary stardom. Blumenthal made his name when he bought over a 450 year old dilapidated pub in the small unsuspecting town of Bray, Berkshire. He transformed this teeny weeny, one door kitchen pub into a restaurant initially serving French bistro type dishes into a three star Michelin restaurant in just five years. This award winning restaurant is known as The Fat Duck and takes reservations up to two months in advance with a string of eager foodies on the waiting list.
Blumenthal is arguably Britain’s most innovative chef of all time. “We eat with our eyes and our ears and our noses. Eating is the only thing you do that involves all senses.” He recalls some unusual foods he has eaten and cringed adding “reindeer kneecap in Siberia, leeches fed on goose blood sautéed with parsley and garlic and freshly milked camel milk where you have to pick the hairs out of my mouth” to the list of nastiest food experiences.

Convinced that dining is a multi-sensory experience, Blumenthal toiled with the idea of creating food that stick in your memory. “Diners listen to an iPod placed in a shell that plays the sound of the waves lapping up against the shore, along with the occasional call of gulls, while eating edible sand, foam, and various food from the sea.” That’s ‘Sound of the Sea’, a sought after experiential treat on the tasting menu at The Fat Duck.

sound sea

The very famous “Sound of the Sea” served at The Fat Duck. Credits: www.cnn.com

As news caught on, Blumenthal’s list of credentials grew and so did his cache of restaurants including Dinner, The Hinds Head and The Crown. He has a number of very successful TV series that has fascinated viewers all over and gain growing followers. He has written seven cookbooks to date and even had the honour of cooking for the Queen of England, not once but numerous times.

“Naivety is one of the best friends of creativity. The first time you see something you get incredibly excited. When I first opened the Duck, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. There was good and bad. The naivety meant that I could question everything. The downside was that my organizational knowledge was rubbish.” He now looks back at the years spent establishing The Fat Duck as foundational years of his success.

“I was working 120 hours a week probably for the first 8 years. You get to levels of delirium that you never thought possible.” His creative gastronomical innovations are not plucked from the sky or fished out of a magician’s hat. Blumenthal is firmly rooted in tradition.

Garden salad

Heston Blumenthal’s (soil) garden salad with sauce gribiche recipe. Credits: www.theguardian.com

“You’ve seen all the crazy stuff that I’ve done, it is really heavily bedded in a technical foundation which starts off with classical French cooking and then from there you need a very deep understanding of classical French cooking in order to question it. And when you start questioning, that forms the building block for something new.”

“I’m basically a big kid and I ask lots of questions. I’m not a scientist, but I am endlessly curious. The best advice I can give to anyone is question everything. You have to respect tradition but prepared to question everything,” that was his advice to young emerging chefs and enthusiastic home cooks. His tenacious probing for the next new thing has kept him going.

His success did not come without sacrifice. In 2011, Blumenthal went through a rough patch having separated from his wife of 20 years, with whom he has three grown up children. It was also around the same time that Blumenthal lost his father. Adding to the upheaval, he had to juggle the opening of Dinner, his newest restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

“Things like that, you have to deal with deep. Really deep. It’s much easier now, but of course, anything like that is going to affect focus,” he said in an interview with Good Food. Blumenthal’s persistence ploughed through.

When he was awarded the ‘Chef of a Decade’ Observer Food Monthly 2013 Award by The Guardian UK, Blumenthal humbly reflected on the last 10 years of his career and said, “With all the knowledge I have now, I still feel I’m just scratching the surface.”

Oak moss

Visually intriguing “Oak Moss” served at The Fat Duck Credits: www.londonfoodfreak.com

When asked what’s next in his culinary journey, the sought after VIP guest at the recent Margaret River Gourmet Escape, a gastronomical extravaganza in Western Australia’s food mecca cordially replied, “I have no fixed plans but hopefully, the next restaurant I open outside of the UK will be in Australia.” To which he received thunderous applauses from his passionate fans. There is no stopping a perfectionist who is (still) in search of perfection.

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Eat Local In New Zealand

There is an abundance of fine food being grown, harvested, made, prepared and served in New Zealand. Although the country doesn’t quite shout a distinctive local dish, the secret to…

There is an abundance of fine food being grown, harvested, made, prepared and served in New Zealand. Although the country doesn’t quite shout a distinctive local dish, the secret to good food in New Zealand is in the quality of its produce. The country is awash with the freshest ingredients; grass fed beef, succulent lamb, fresh-off-the-sea oysters and paua, organic veggies from local farmers markets and rich dairy products like cheese.

With ingredients like this, how could the restaurants not be good? The best places to eat in New Zealand are casual and unpretentious. They are often nestled within small towns. Service is friendly rather than formal. Most importantly, they know where the ingredients come from and they treat them well – and that makes a winning combination.

Here are my selections of great eats and I’m sure there are joints that I haven’t pounced on yet. Maybe on my next visit there. Unfortunately I don’t have photos to go with all of them. Admittedly, I was too hungry and wolfed down my meal before my Iphone camera had a go at it.

In Auckland – Occidental Belgian Bar
Not the perfect location to dine with a baby, but I couldn’t resist the rave on the steamed green-lipped mussels at this place! We (hubs and I) were served a massive bowl of fleshy, succulent mussels steamed in a white wine sauce. It felt like a never ending attempt to reach the bottom of the bowl, but we eventually did and nearly passed out on a mussel-coma!
If you like history and dated architecture, you’d love the interior décor at Occidental. It was once the finest hotel in Auckland. Its vintage interior decor of wooden floors, wooden walls, leather-clad booths with warm lighting is a reminder of its rich history. Located on the character-rich pedestrian Vulcan Lane, between Queen Street and High Street, the bar is easy to get to and makes for a great stroll around after a meal.

Auckland_Occidental

In Christchurch – Dimitris Greek Food
What’s good here? The souvlaki. Packed with just chicken or lamb or both, the thick pita bread wraps like a cone and is stuffed with juicy, well-spiced meat along with tomatoes, lettuce, tomato and chilli sauce and awesome Greek yoghurt. Eating the souvlaki is a messy affair if you choose to wallop it whole. That’s why they give you a fork to pick out the filling.

Christchurch_Souvlaki

In Queenstown – Johnny Barr’s Sandwich Place
Healthy, filling and very tasty! Johnny Barr serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups and a great selection of smoothies. In busy and thriving Queenstown, finding affordable and healthy food is quite a challenge. We ordered the Thai Beef Salad, a hearty salad packed with greens and a good portion of thinly sliced beef drizzled with spicy sweet Thai dressing and the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich came loaded with grilled beef, onions, mushroom and capsicum and sealed with a layer of cheese at the top. The casual setting at the restaurant is great for catch ups and I also saw customers ordering take away – obviously not a bad idea to sit by the waterfront just round the corner while enjoying delicious sandwiches. We ended up sitting in since there was free wifi!

JOhnny Barr

In Dunedin – Rob Roy Ice Cream
A happy place not just for children! We first spotted people walking pass us with scoops of ice cream heaped on tiny cone. It was a cold and blustery summer evening, but we just had to have it. The old-fashioned dairy shares a shoplot with convenience store and it’s a local favourite serving rich, creamy and delicious ice cream, milk shakes and frozen yoghurt. Its walls are plastered with ‘flower power’ wallpaper from the 60s and the floors are covered with black and white checkered vinyl. The dairy also seemed to have kept its prices as is. We paid $2.80 for a single serve and it came heaping with two massive scoops of ice cream in two flavours.

Dunedin_RobRoy Icecreamry

In Dunedin – Cadbury Factory
Every chocolate lover’s dream-come-true! The smell of sweet cocoa wharfs over you the minute you walk pass its sliding doors and linger in the fabric of your clothes. For $22, you get to immerse yourself in everything chocolate and see the labour of love that goes into making the world’s most consumed dessert. Plus, you get freebies along the way. The best part is watching 1-tonne of liquid chocolate gushing down five stories into a metal cauldron. The experience is jaw-dropping and better still, we were served a cup of rich glossy, thick liquid chocolate at the end of the tour. If only Cadbury sold the liquid gold on the shelves…

Dunedine_Cabdury Factory

All around New Zealand – Lone Star
American Red Indian inspired, Lone Star (LS) is a chain of restaurants across NZ. They are famed for their Redneck campfire stacked ribs and the dish is not for the faint hearted. The menu writes “Porky pigs’ ribs blanched in honey & spices, blasted in the Lone Star fire, piled high then smothered in our famous hoisin, orange & sesame seed sauce, served with buffalo chips & coleslaw”. Seriously… who can resist that? The waiters at LS are super attentive and friendly and the experience of dining at LS is like eating at a local diner, even though it’s a chain.
Freebie tip: Go to their website and Grab a Meal. Free stuff, mostly starters at selected outlets.

Lonestar_Ribs

In Oamaru – Whitestone Cheese
Oh my, I love cheese! Whitestone produces award winning artisan cheeses made with 100% natural ingredients. The factory at the back has a viewing platform where you can watch barrels of cheese doing its work – maturing. The café is known for its tasting platter that’s priced at $5 and $10 and they have a selection of deli favourites. We ordered the cheese scone served with Whitestone’s creamy butter and a tasting platter for lunch and was satisfied to the brim.
Whitestone derived its name from the natural ancient limestone in Oamaru and the same limestone is seen in the Victorian buildings around the town.

Oamaru_Whitestone Cheese SconeOamaru_Whitestone Cheese

In Hampden, onward to Moeraki Boulders from Oamaru– Lockies Fish and Chips
Apparently the best fish and chips in New Zealand, so said some locals… Lockies Fish and Chips is located just outside of Oamaru, towards the famous Moeraki Boulders. The purple fencing around the building is hard to miss. The fish is fresh and the batter is light and be sure to order the blue cod as it makes all the difference. The location makes for a perfect stopover for a picnic lunch takeaway and enjoy it on the beach.

lockies fish and chips

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Tips To Keep Your Tummy Safe When Eating In Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is food haven for many, especially locals. Ask a local about their cuisine, particularly Malaysians and Singaporeans and they would offer you a whole speal on the best…

Southeast Asia is food haven for many, especially locals. Ask a local about their cuisine, particularly Malaysians and Singaporeans and they would offer you a whole speal on the best restaurants in town, when to go and what to order. We are just passionate about food and I’m sure fellow Asians will agree with me when I say, “We can be eating breakfast and thinking about lunch, dinner and supper!”

But for a foreigner traveling to Southeast Asia for the first time, the whole food experience can be fascinating and overwhelming at the same time. A dozen types of stir fries, unidentified animal parts, different types of curries and weird textured desserts – the variety is limitless. While you’re on that culinary hunt, you might find this infographic (below) quite useful. Here are 7 general tips to keep your tummy safe while traveling in Southeast Asia.

Better still, find a friend or a guide to give you an introduction of the food choices before going on that tasting spree. There are also tour companies focused on culinary adventures like Food Tour Malaysia. They take small groups around Kuala Lumpur or Penang to savour the very best the city has to offer. Joining a tour like that will guarantee that you taste a variety of foods without being stuffed and you elimate the risk of contracting travelers diarrhea.

Tips to eating in Southeast Asia

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10 Tips When Visiting Budapest

Here’s 10 tips if you have plans to travel to Budapest. By far, it’s probably one of the best European cities we’ve been to. Judging from the size of the…

Here’s 10 tips if you have plans to travel to Budapest. By far, it’s probably one of the best European cities we’ve been to.

  1. Judging from the size of the map, Budapest can look like a large city. If you like to walk, traveling by foot is the best option as you get to see more. It is possible to walk from the Buda side to the Pest side in 30 minutes.
  2. However, if you would like to take the metro (there are 3 metro lines, and the 4th one is being build), a rough guide is that – should you take more than 5 times a day, it’s best to get the one day pass. But what we did was to get a set of 10 tickets. Tickets are transferable. So, when we felt we were dead tired, we took a metro. Much more cost effective and you definitely see more on foot.
  3. Go for the free Budapest Walk Tour. It’ll give you a great orientation of the city plus the guides provide useful tips to “survive” in Budapest. Also, get some tips on how to choose the perfect accommodation in Budapest because it is quite a big area to explore and you want to get the most of your moolah spent.
  4. And mentioning about free tour, if you have more days in the city, take the Communism Walk and the Jewish Quarter Walk Tour.
  5. If you’re unsure with hot baths to go (as they are a few to choose from), take note that Szechenyi Baths has a younger clientele than the Gellert Baths. Rudas bath (Turkish) has only a same-sex pool. However, on Saturdays, it’s open for unisex.
  6. There is a cave church when you cross Szabadsag bridge (from Pest to Buda). It’s really worth the visit.
  7. Take a walk up to Castle Hill in Buda side. The best view of the entire city up there. The climb isn’t that tough, takes approximately 10-15 minutes from the base of the hill.
  8. Goulash soup is a tourist trap! An average Hungarian never drinks Goulash soup. Go for their authentic food. Ask the folks of Budapest Walk Tour for tips.
  9. Budapest is beautiful at night! Photographers especially must make a trip after dark to take those spectacular shots! Heroes Square is worth the mention though.
  10. And lastly, never take a taxi! Taxi men rip you off big time!
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Food In Munich

There’s somewhat a laid-back attitude with the people here in Munich. Beer halls, taverns, restaurants, cafes and streets are always filled with masses. A popular tradition in Munich is of…

There’s somewhat a laid-back attitude with the people here in Munich. Beer halls, taverns, restaurants, cafes and streets are always filled with masses. A popular tradition in Munich is of course beer drinking, we opted to taste a different Bavarian speciality instead – the food of course!

What we most readily associate Germany (food wise) with is of course the sausage. They call it wursts here. Sausages are usually served on a bed of sauerkraut, which is essentially boiled and pickled cabbage. Sausages here are amazing – the texture, taste and how its properly served. And despite not being entirely a meat lover – I’m dazzled by the sheer passion for meat of all sizes, cuts and taste as I walk through the local food market.

Munich-Germany (38)Munich-Germany (37)

We dived into a typical Bavarian platter at a famous beer hall. This time is of pork knuckle, sausages (again), pan-fried duck, dumpling and sauerkraut. Hearty, fatty, warm and delicious – needless to say we walked back to our hostel in absolute satisfaction.

Munich-Germany (2)Munich-Germany (3)

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Travel Tips In Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a fantastic city for tourism, rich in history with castles and museums dotted all over the city. However, for budget travelers, it can be an expensive city, with…

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a fantastic city for tourism, rich in history with castles and museums dotted all over the city. However, for budget travelers, it can be an expensive city, with entry fees to all those places adding up quickly. So after 7 days of exploring the city by foot, here are some recommendations:

Affordable accommodation

  • Caledonian Backpackers on Queensferry Street – The building is just off Princes Street where the buzz happens. Free (and great) breakfast from 6am – 12noon. Free wifi and internet access. Super cheap bar. Mini beanbag cinema with an endless list of movies. Hot showers, comfy beds, generally clean. And the wall murals are great for pics.
  • Budget Backpackers on Grassmarket – There are over 700 pubs just along Grassmarket if you’re into pub crawling. Grassmarket used to be a trading place and a place for execution way back. Creeps for those whose imagination goes wild! The facilities are a lot newer, room prices are cheaper however everything else is on a paid-to-go basis. Breakfast is at 2 pounds, internet access 1 pound for ½ hour, baggage storage 1 pound per locker…

Food, Glorious Food

  • Maggie Dickson on Grassmarket – they serve really good chilli con carne, great for a hearty hot lunch. They offer discounts for students at 7.95 pounds for 2 mains.
  • The Last Drop on Grassmarket apparently serves mouth watering haggis (haag-geese) but the line was always too long for the wait, so we skipped it. Try it If you’re around and let us know if it’s really that good. Haggis is the traditional dish of Scotland, it is hot peppered minced meat served with a gazillion other spices. Usually served with Neeps and Tatties (mashed potatoes and turnips).
  • Rose Street is a street filled with pubs and restaurants. Go there if you have exhausted all places for food. From Mexican to Japanese to (obviously) Scottish food!

Things to do

  • Free walk tour by SandemansThe New Europe tours are designed for any kind of travelers for a first-hand introduction of specific cities in Europe. It is fun, engaging and educational – best of all it’s free. It’s quite impossible to download the entire history of a city but this tour dissects years of history into sizeable bits for all. Tour guides work on a tips only basis, which means we get to rate our tour guide and tip what we think he/she deserves.
  • National Museum of Scotland is a great place for knowledge thirsty folks. There are 5 floors to explore and you should visit the remains of the first cloned sheep, “Dolly” stuffed and encased in a glass box on a rotating plate. Admission is free.
  • Edinburgh Castle – The castle at Edinburgh perches on volcanic rock and dominates the city skyline. During the medieval period the castle at Edinburgh became the chief royal castle. State records and crown jewels were housed there. The room leading into the crown jewels is very impressive (take particular notice on the ‘Stone of Destiny’) and do a google search to find out its amazing ‘adventure’. Tip: Book online!
  • Climbing Arthur’s Seat or surrounding hills. The view from the large volcanic hill in the center of Edinburgh is a wonder on its own. Situated inside Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat takes approximately 1 hour to climb. Since it way icy and slippery we opted to climb other surrounding hills, but if you’re in Edinburgh in summer, spring or autumn – make sure you climb it!

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The over rated places…

  • Tours to Loch Ness is way over rated, whilst the scenery there is beautiful, you literally spend 6-7 hours on the bus to and from Edinburgh. Loch Ness, (Loch in Scotland means Lake) is a pristine and quiet expanse of water with the famous legend of “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster surrounding it.
  • John Knox House – Unimpressive and very much over-rated. John Knox only stayed in the house for a period of time and only a percentage of what tourists see are authentic fittings from the original structure. Admission fee is 3.50 pounds.

EdinburghEdinburgh

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