Food, fashion and fetishism

Infantilising foods

Heston Blumenthal seems to have taken over the Waitrose magazine for reasons that were never made clear, as Hunter Thompson used to say. Presenting himself as the wacky scientist chef with the James Bond villain name, the man whose restaurant mysteriously wasn’t closed down when he poisoned scores of people with oysters that were way past being a bit iffy feels it’s his duty to tell us all about the food Waitrose can sell us.

As recipes go they’re admirably simple. Sometimes they’re so simple you could get the impression you might have had when you were about seven years old, that putting toast on a plate was making breakfast or that opening a tin of baked beans was making dinner. Most of them are tweely ‘Heston’s’; as in Heston’s ultimate cheeseburger.

Never mind that it sounds exactly like those people you shared with at uni who used a chinagraph pencil to mark the level on their milk bottles and biroed their initials on sausages. But life turned out ok. I topped up the milk bottle with water. I passed it myself.

Cheese slices

To make the cheese slices, mix the cheese, Worcestershire sauce, English mustard, cornflour, yeast and Marmite. Place in the fridge for 2 hours.

Sorry? To make cheese I put cheese in the fridge? And why isn’t there anything about slicing it? How do I do that without instructions, exactly? Is this supposed to be a recipe or what? And breathe. And look at another recipe.

Salmon dip

(Please note, Heston’s waaaaaay too funky to use a capital at the start of each word. If you’ll pardon the expression. Funky means ‘smelling of sex.’ I always think unencumbered it’s a bit like marzipan, (me and the writer of The English Patient too if you remember the scene at the Christmas party. In the film, obviously) but not something I’d want to be aware of in a commercial kitchen where my dinner is being prepared by several people I haven’t even met.

Funky fishy stuff

By combining two forms of salmon – chargrilled and tea-smoked – you get a variety of texture.

From the wild rushing rivers of Alaska to the reaches of the Clyde and the Tay, the fjords of Norway and the Arctic tundra, salmon fishers the world over quest for the wily tea-smoked salmon. There are two forms of brown trout, which are much more interesting. The normal ones, that eat insects and larvae and grow to no more than about a foot long for a really big one. Then there are the weird, strange ones, the were-trout, the ferox that lives up to its name, brown trout that have gone cannibal and grown ten times heavier than they might have expected to when they hatched. Weirder still, absolutely no-one knows why they do that, if and when they do. There are also two forms of salmon, almost as Heston says, but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about them at all. There are wild salmon, traditionally in the UK bright pink and eaten from tins. And there are farmed salmon, which get subsidies to provide a handful of jobs in Scotland, where they have to be force-fed chemicals to stop them dying from infections caused by sea-lice eating them alive while their droppings poison the sea-bed under and downstream of their cages. Because they can’t swim far they’ve got no muscle tone so their flesh doesn’t have much texture and because they don’t get much exercise their flesh also has to be dyed to make it the colour people expect of their smoked salmon. Still, if you want this ersatz copy of the good life at £2.99 for 200g then the 27-odd industrial chemicals involved in getting it onto your plate probably doesn’t matter. Certainly Heston can’t be bothered to mention it.

But then, texture, like production and provenance seems to be something else that’s all a bit desperately un-hip and boring. The people Heston’s aiming Pork shoulder sliders at seem to think so, anyway.

Sliders are so-called because they slide down easy.

Let’s ignore the hyphen which seems to imply that they’re not called that at all. Let’s ignore the chummy anti-elitist illiteracy of using easy instead of easily. Heston, you absolute dude. Instead, let’s think about the virtues of food you don’t even have to chew. Yum.

Of course, if you don’t chew your teeth will fall out sooner than they might otherwise and equally of course, you’ll eat far more of this stuff because without chewing you by-pass the bio-feedback loop created over millions of years to tell you you’re full. Oh and you won’t produce saliva the way you’re supposed to, so you won’t digest it properly, you won’t feel great and you’ll get fat.

But so what? Who, frankly, cares? Obviously not Heston. Because food isn’t an integral part of your life that really matters and without it you’ll die and with the wrong foods you’ll die in considerable discomfort. Debatably worse, you’ll look as if you have as well.



Gin with grapefruit and ginger beer. This drink is packed full of aromatics. Yes. It’s called gin. That’s what gin is.


Spit-roasted pineapple – no, I’m not even going to go there.

But I’m a square. Food is fun. Food is wacky. Food is a zillion photos of a bald bloke fiddling with his glasses and a Bunsen burner. Food is 529 people projectile vomiting and involuntarily re-decorating their bathrooms when luckily there’s no breach of food hygiene regulations. It’s nothing to do with where it came from or how it got to your plate or what it’s going to do to you. None of that matters at all.

And finally

And on page 13, Heart disease might be scary.*

Who knew? Depressingly, I didn’t even make that up. Food as fetishism I can cope with; at least fetishism takes things seriously. Food as faddish infantilism mocks the animals that provided it and the people who eat it.



* p13 Waitrose magazine 1st August.



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Heston Services

Hmm, Felicity, March ’86. That should do it.

If you shop at Waitrose (and dear reader, it is a truth universally acknowledge that one does not admit to shopping anywhere else) you’ll have seen Waitrose Weekend, the free newspaper-style magazine with cooking tips and as they would never say in public, so much more.

This week along with the butterflied lamb with fig glaze (What? No, if you’ve got something to say then just say it. I’m waiting….) there’s a feature on how utterly crap, damaging to reality, truth and a genuine business culture The Apprentice actually is along with a thing about Aggers and cricket. So far so excellent. Cricket, and in particular Radio 4’s surreal commentaries on it where the on-air appreciation of cakes baked by deranged listeners and sent to the men in their 80s broadcasting as they chortle over a cup of tea at world-class schoolboy humour (“the batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willy”) is far and away the best athletic sport, chiefly because sloggers like Botham aside it doesn’t look very athletic. Sitting in a deckchair it all looks so gentle any spectator can think ‘I could do that. If I could be bothered to stand up. Maybe I’ll have another cup of tea first.’ I once tried to introduce a Scottish woman to the serene loveliness of an English village cricket match. It was the first time I’d really appreciated how much Lewis Carrol had put into the game.

‘Why’s that stupit man with all the hats wearing a dress?’

The umpire had decided to wear the hat of everyone who had decided their hat was too hot or got in the way and handed it to him. He’d also decided to wear shorts, a deplorable practice in cricket but let’s face it, they weren’t playing at the Oval. He’d then worn his white warehouse coat, as umpire and the hem of the coat was longer than his shorts. Not a dress. But it did look as if the local transsexual had branched out with a multiple hat fetish, to be fair. The next comment was much more damning.

‘If they put their back intae ut this could be over in haffanoor.’

I tried to explain that running when you hit the ball, well, that was really for professionals on TV, and that running was antithetical to cricket, where the cucumber sandwiches and the gossip around the pavillion, where the tea-urn is probably more important than the urn the Ashes are kept in, is all much more important than the crass vulgarity of actually winning the game. Cricket is – well cricket is for sitting on a deckchair in the sun and languid clapping, reflecting on the inanities of sports that involve strenuous effort like cheering. The Zen contemplation of the red, white and green. If the Rastafari flag is gold for the sun, red for the blood of the martyrs and green for the green fields of Ethiopia (notwithstanding that Hailie Selassie, the Lion of Judah, spent a fair bit of time in a nice early-Victorian stone villa in Bath) then cricket’s iconography symbolises the red of the ball that hit you in the side of the head on a playing field when you were fourteen and looking at Teresa Powell playing volleyball instead of fielding properly, (if you kept your eyes open Bennett this wouldn’t have happened. You’re letting your team down. There’s nothing wrong with you…), white for the colour the knee pads used to be, the only pad you could find that had buckles on all of its straps and green for the grass stains you hoped you might get on your whites when volleyball was over in a summer long ago. The smell of long-dead bowlers and boyhood and loss and the wheel of life anthem for doomed youth that gently haunts every cobweb in every village Pav. I tried to translate this into Scottish but I think it lost something along the way.

No. What irritated me about Waitrose Weekend (and let’s face it, so far so lovely) was Heston Blumenthal. To be fair, either of those two words irritates me intensely, let alone both together. Heston Blumenthal is a self-consciously ‘wacky’ (no, there really isn’t an N in the word, officially) celebrity chef who looks like a dick and plays with food. You won’t hear anything about provenance or terroir or grass feeding or ethical standards in Heston’s cooking. Or the food poisoning that sent literally hundreds of his customers to the bathroom all night that the local Environmental Health Officers in Bray felt shouldn’t close his restaurant but one hundredth of which would have shut a burger van for good. All you ever hear about “Heston’s” food is exactly that – how he’s put his own unique stamp on it. Because that’s obviously the most important thing.

“In his Heston from Waitrose Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream the chef manages to contain everything that’s great about the movies.’ Does he? Does he really? He combines the burning, corrosive madness of the English Patient with the whimsical fun of banditry in Butch Cassidy and the seen-it-all Bogart and the beautiful-and-dead appeal of James Dean and the institutionalised crushing brutality of The Hill in a bag of popcorn? Not bad going, Heston. Maybe next time you could add a soupcon of Bad Wives from the Vivid studio. That might lend a little ‘ow you say, piquancy.

“In a television advert for Waitrose… the chef is shown being inspired by popcorn-like meteors on a trip to the cinema.” I think Waitrose will find they’ve actually paid for an advert for the chef, not for themselves at all, notwithstanding that after The Triffids a lot of people look at meteors with a distinct unease. But that could just be the popcorn, of course. Exactly what a popcorn-like meteor is, or how it inspires anyone is quickly brushed aside.

“The chef, who is famous for molecular gastronomy” (like every other chef on the planet, but let’s put that aside too, along with food poisoning, which is obviously now officially in the Rude To Mention It category) ‘reveals…he had this idea. Why not take my love of ice-cream and my childhood love of cinema and just stick them all together?”

No Heston. Just stop right there. The real question is why do that, not why not? Let’s ignore the fact that corn is one of the very worst things you can eat, in terms not just of the economics of its production but also what it does to you. Corn syrup, anyone? With a side order of Type Two diabetes? Coming right up.

It’s the sheer mind-warping inanity, the look-at-me-look-at-me playing with food I object to. Why not take my love of Biggles books and rice and um, eat it on an airplane? Oh wait, that’s been done. Ok, here’s one. Why not take my love of Gerry Anderson’s puppets and sandwiches and er, make a balsa wood sandwich with a string filling? Yeah baby! Behave! Now we’re cooking with gas. Molecularly. Like no-one else does.

Next week Heston shows us a protein shake any man can make in five minutes with an old copy of Penthouse. As Waitrose Weekend hopefully doesn’t say.

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