Over 30 years ago, self-taught chef Heston Blumenthal embarked on a journey of culinary exploration and discovery, which led to the opening of The Fat Duck in Bray in 1995. Earlier this year every member of the team – including all the crockery, cutlery and equipment – moved to a temporary home in Melbourne Australia, for a 9-month migration. Heston and his team are now back home and the 29th September sees the reopening of The Fat Duck as it enters its 21st year.
Famed for introducing to the world cooking and eating as a multisensory experience, Heston Blumenthal is legendary for his commitment to the research and discovery of all things culinary and his wonderings of nostalgia and his fascination with sensory perceptions have been tirelessly studied. His unending curiosity and questioning approach cross-pollinated the worlds of gastronomy, neurological sciences and the arts, in many cases leading to collaborations with research centres and universities around the world. As early as 1993 one of his creations, Triple Cooked Chips, changed forever this simple classic, while his work with sound, perception, nostalgia and neurological responses contributed to a whole new world of understanding. The impact of his research has seen him awarded multiple doctorates, an OBE and a Fellowship by the Royal Society of Chemistry. 2016 will see Heston named by the Royal Society of Chemistry, one of 175 most influential scientists of all time.
The migration of The Fat Duck to Australia in January 2015 had two very specific purposes. On a practical level, it allowed for the 16th century building housing The Fat Duck to undergo renovations, including structural maintenance, refurbishment and a brand new kitchen. More importantly, the decision to move The Fat Duck and the whole team “Down Under”, allowed Heston himself the freedom to focus on the future evolution of his pioneering restaurant. So many ideas and imaginings: the results of a lifetime’s work coupled with a exciting vision of the future were all beginning to take shape like a huge jigsaw puzzle.
The 9-month closure gave a unique opportunity to reflect on what inspired him to develop his restaurant in such an unconventional way. Heston understood that when he first served crab ice cream in 1998, a whole new world of cooking had been born and it was all about the senses; understanding that pleasure from food is centred in the brain and in particular, memories.
“Every dish at The Fat Duck has always had a story, a reason for being. I wanted to evolve more than ever before, those particular elements into a wider, more personal and connected experience for my guests. I wanted to also offer something more individual, with a tailor-made element to the menu which would combine all my discoveries thus far, of story telling, multi-sensory, playful nostalgia and memories.” explains Heston.
The latest menu will take the form of a map and uses a perfect nostalgic day in Heston’s own childhood as a framework.
“It will be a journey, starting from the instant you book your ticket, ever growing excitement for when you arrive and ending after you leave The Fat Duck,” he continues “It is me, describing my childhood holiday memory full of adventure, curiosity, discovery and playfulness that spans a day, from morning to night, breakfast to dreaming and in between; activities like rock-pooling and getting an ice cream from the van near the beach. The menu with all these elements will act as a catalyst to bring your own memories to life. It’s about bringing people together and allowing them to use all the senses to trigger their memories – where you were, whom you were with, what you ate and how you ate it. It then becomes your own holiday journey”.
A whole new unique approach has been created for the reopening, with a complete rethink about the purpose and reason behind the delivery of each individual component of the experience. All elements of service will participate in the occasion: the menu, the lighting, the tableware, the cutlery and the involvement of the Front of House team. Moreover all aspects of Front of House service will play a key role in the theatre of the occasion, providing an experience that is full of unique nudges and magical moments. There will be opportunities for guests to simply observe and enjoy the journey in anonymity, or create their own personal and involved experience, as often or as little as they wish throughout the meal.
New dishes will also feature from September 29th and their evolution will continue as those before them. Iconic dishes such as Snail Porridge and Bacon and Egg Ice Cream evolved over the years and like all dishes on The Fat Duck menu, once they have reached a point of no further development, they will be taken off to make room for new. These classic dishes however will not be forgotten, but archived instead in a “Hall of Fame” with potential reoccurrences for special requests with the new menu bringing a more personal, wider experience.
From midday on Thursday 3rd September reservations will be available and can be made through the website thefatduck.co.uk. The new online booking system will offer a more comfortable booking experience for guests in different time zones. The pre-payment system will also be introduced, where guests will purchase their “ticket” for the restaurant at time of reservation. This “ticket” covers all food costs, with only wines, service and other drinks paid for at the end of the meal.
September 29th sees the journey begin again for the The Fat Duck and the continuance of Heston Blumenthal’s endless curiosity into all aspects of our responses, our reactions and our enjoyment of dining.
It heralds not only a new era for the restaurant and its guests’ dining experience, but also the beginning of a much wider journey for the chef.