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Bethnal Green to Holborn. Holborn to Knightsbridge. Destination: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. My mind is going a thousand miles an hour: I have a slight buzz from a couple of beers a few hours earlier, we had to race to the restaurant and our party changed from four to two. Me and my brother step into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Not at all in the relaxed mind-set I thought I would have. The reason lies a few hours earlier in the day…

We arrive at RE Shoreditch Hotel in London from Moor Farm in Holyport. At the back of the hotel there’s an elevator to transport one car at a time to the parking space a few meters below street level. It’s a clean, modern, new hotel, a completely different atmosphere than our B&B in the countryside. At no point in the hotel I have to drop my head a meter to get through a door or take a shower. We relax for an hour before heading out to the streets of Shoreditch.

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The Fat Duck

‘A bit late, uh’. Johnny (chef of the restaurant) looks demonstratively at the clock, knowing perfectly well what time it is, and back at me. I notice a small smile in his expression. ‘Sorry chef! We rented a boat and went on the Thames to get the juices flowing. Sorry about the time. We’re real excited about lunch!’ Another smile. I’m back in the kitchen to say hello to the chef and all the cooks before lunch. Unfortunately we are a bit late. Isabelle had the wonderful idea to take a boat ride that day (the weather in England was much better than in the Netherlands where it was raining for two weeks non stop), but it all took a bit longer than planned.

At about 10.30am we left the B&B for Hurley. Isabelle found a small rental company at the river, where you can rent boats for 30 pounds an hour. We rent one from 11.00 to 12.00. Cruising, uhm, puffing away down the river it becomes even more apparent than riding to Bray. There is money here. Lots of it. We come across estate after estate only intercepted by the occasional, humongous house. I must say it’s all very stylish. Tasteful. Really important in my eyes when something is build from a mountain of money. The only exception is a small island, 30 puff minutes away from Hurley, where someone build a sort of shrine, Roman style, including a small statue you’d find on the most pompous of fountains in somebody’s garden. Now hope nobody who reads this has one in his or her garden.

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I forgot to write down the names of everyone at The Fat Duck. Am busy getting them, so I will incorporate them in the post. May take a while, so I decided to put the post online anyway.

Staff lunch at The Fat Duck

Months of waiting. At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to see the restaurant, taste the food, talk to the chefs, explore the food lab and in general get away for a couple of freaking days. Not so long ago, the 27th of July, it was finally time to head out to Bray. I packed bags full of food and drinks, printed the Eurotunnel tickets and hopped in a car with two friends, Isabelle and Dion, and my brother David. To save everyone from a boring car trip report here are the key points: car, food, music, Calais, scary tunnel, Folkestone, funny reversal driving, Holyport, Moor Farm, a welcoming, extreme (unfulfilled) desire for a pint, some jokes, tooth brushing, sleeping dreaming of Fat Duck food (actually I have no idea what I dreamt of).

An alarm rings. Time to get up!!! Staff lunch at The Fat Duck, tour of Braymenthal, interview with Heston and dinner at The Crown are all waiting. We drive to The Fat Duck. It was obvious from the drive over and more so after entering the village – it reeks of money in this part of England. The cars seem to stem directly from the wishlist of little kids. Approaching the restaurant we decide to crash it with all four. To our surprise it is absolutely no problem if we all have lunch and take the tour of the kitchen, prep kitchen and lab together. Lunch consists of pasta with a meat sauce (sous vide) and a fresh iceberg lettuce salad. We sit down and a cook is so kind to bring the food, which as he jokingly says, he normally does not do. Normal situation: food = fight for it.

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Just got back from England. It was awesome! Laughed and ate a lot. I will sort the photos and start writing soon. Here’s a little preview.

Not so long ago I was in London, knowing Dinner just opened and Heston would be in the restaurant to make sure everything ran smoothly. One morning I decide to go to Knightsbridge, walk into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, hoping I can talk to the man himself. At the entrance one of the waitresses intercepts me and I tell her about my business: a little bit about the blog, I’m there to discuss something with Heston and if it would be possible to meet him. Taking my message into the restaurant she comes back after 20 minutes saying Heston is very busy and I can only talk Ashley Palmer-Watts. No problem, at least it’s a way in and who knows, maybe I can manoeuvre myself into a meeting with Mr. Blumenthal.

After a good 40 minutes the same waitress returns with the message Ashley is too busy and I have to leave a cart behind with my contact info and a brief explanation who I am. Not going into specifics before, I write down I’m not a crazed fan, just a regular Joe with a food blog, cooking dishes from the Big Fat Duck Cookbook, who would like to have a talk with Ashley and Heston.

The next morning I still haven’t heard anything. I check my voice-mail, my e-mail, no messages. Honestly, feeling a bit pissed, I say fuck it and decide to make the most of the day in London. After a few hours I realise they may have send an e-mail after I checked in the morning, so somewhere in Notting Hill I go to a shopping centre where I pay 2 pounds for 30 minutes of internet access. I dial in the code. I wait for the welcome screen to load. It doesn’t work. Trying different combinations, asking people around me, nothing is getting the computer to work. Again I say fuck it (stupid!) and head out to the streets before ending up back at the B&B some time later.

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Well, this is it. I never intended to write a final post on how this blog changed me personally, and what I’m going to do next, and am sticking to that feeling. So, goodbye.

Ok, that may be a bit harsh, but when starting and keeping up this blog I tried to stay away from (not saying I was successful all the time) hundreds of exclamation marks, a super friendly attitude that seems to exist only on blogs, feelings of the day and endless personal paragraphs on ingredients at the beginning of posts. If I would have to summarize why I started this blog it comes down to a ‘big fuck you’. A fuck you to the endless cooking shows and cookbooks making everything ‘easier’. Those shows where someone chops half an onion and 1 second later has cut 10 of them. Or someone using pan after pan and then not show the enormous clean up afterwards. It’s all so easy! Yes that’s an exclamation mark. My life would indeed be very easy if I could edit it to will and remove, like Hitchcock said, the dull bits. I cook simple food most of the time,  but what’s wrong with more challenging stuff from time to time and the Roux brothers guiding you through your attempts.

Lastly, my blog is a fuck you to the word ‘impossible’.

Now it may seem I’m some angry guy, but next to a pissed off reaction to a part of the contemporary food world, I started this blog out of love. The moment The Big Fat Duck Cookbook arrived at my doorstep I had a crush on it. I still lovingly caress it from time to time. It has so much soul, I just had to cook from it. For me it’s the exact opposite of the Alinea cookbook for example, which I find derived of any type of personality.

When I translated my love for the book in actual cooking I thought why not document my attempts, so someone else may have some help seeing my results. I hope it did.

Now that the book is finished I’ve been getting a lot of questions what’s up next. I can safely say I will not start another cookbook blog. I loved cooking from the Fat Duck Cookbook, but am sort of relieved the days of a permanent Fat Duck space at the back of my mind are over. Days of just messing around with food are here again. Lately I’ve been cooking from the Momofuku cookbook, a book I love for the same reason I love The Fat Duck Cookbook, it possesses tons of soul, in an attempt to get more familiar with the flavors of China, Japan and South Korea. I no longer want to be clueless when standing in a Japanese produce store and wonder what all those brightly colored packages contain. So, my plan was as simple as when I just started cooking. Grab a book (am not ashamed to admit they were from a certain Mister Oliver the first time around), pick out recipes and just make stuff. So far I made pork buns, rice cakes, kimchi, all the stuff for a bowl of ramen minus the actual noodles, XO sauce and more.

So, I’m just going to continue cooking and who knows what will come of it.

With the final words I want to thank my family and friends that helped me in my endeavor. Thanks! Also a thank you to all of you commenting on the posts.

Later.

All the Dishes

Specialty Equipment: food dehydrator – water bath – vacuum machine – digital thermometer – thermomix – fine digital scale – ice cream machine – mandolin – pastry cutters – PacoJet – refractometer – pH meter – electric slicer – pressure cooker – freeze-drier – rotary evaporator – (range of) molds – steamer – centrifuge

Specialty Ingredients: acid, citric – acid, malic – acid, tartaric acid – calcium chloride – carbonized vegetable powder, brown – crystallised violet petals – essence, leather – essential oil, almond – essential oil, Douglas Fir – essential oil, Frankincense – essential oil, grapefruit – essential oil, lychee – essential oil, mandarin – essential oil, rose – flojel 60 – gelatine (170 Bloom) – gelatine (200 Bloom), powdered – gellan f – gellan LT100 – gold leaves – gold powder – golden Frankincense tears – gum arabic – liquorice root, dried – liquorice root, sticks of concentrated – maltodextrin DE19 – milk powder, skimmed – N-Zorbit M maltodextrin – nitrite salt – oak extract – pectin, high methoxyl – pectin, nappage – pectin, yellow – popping candy – shimmer powder, blue – sodium caseinate – sodium citrate – sodium tripolyphosphate – soy lecithin – spray-dried apple granules – spray-dried carrot powder – sugar, fructose – sugar, invert – sugar, isomalt – tobacco, cavendish – transglutaminase – vitamin C – whey powder – liquid nitrogen – cacao butter – patience

Days: 98

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Feel weird seeing all the work of 1 year and 2 months on 1 page. The funny thing is that I can remember a lot from every dish: preparation methods, what went wrong, what was difficult to make, stuff like that. I’m sure the information will be replaced by other pieces of info over time, but hell, I’ve got photos and accompanying texts to help me remember.

As far as the photos go I can clearly see I had no clue until the Orange and Beetroot Jelly, which I made during a photography course. From then on I tried to take better photographs, but didn’t have a tripod and lighting was a word I had not yet linked to taking pictures. The Roast Foie Gras ‘Benzaldehyde’ was the first plate I lid (with LED flashlights) with an end result in mind: replicating the shadow rich, dynamic quality of the photos in the book. I still wasn’t the proud owner of a tripod, so when taking the picture I juggled two flashlights and a camera, which would make every photographer chuckle. With the Beef Royal (1723), First Course recipe I owned a tripod and started to think more and more on the photos I was taking, leading in the end to makeshift setups with lights and boards that were lying around the house. I’ve never bought proper lights, or a proper (digital) camera for that matter, so am looking forward to buying some and see how the photos will turn out.

The purchase of a tripod went hand in hand with a change in my cooking. At a certain point you start to notice little details in the recipes and the presentations and this sneaks up in your cooking. The book will slowly and unnoticeably (to a certain point) turn you in a Fat Duck intern, afraid of a big bad chef who’s looking over your shoulder. The cubes of butter from the Flaming Sorbet are a prime example (forgive my ass for quoting myself): ‘During the crumble preparations I knew the cookbook had gotten to me. I’m at a point of no return. Precision is imprinted in my brain. My fingers act like somebody could strike them at any moment if I’m not precise. I was preparing cubes of butter for the crumble and noticed I was cutting them all in the same size and discarding the ones that weren’t. It’s only a freaking butter for a crumble mixture! In the end I got some control of myself and kept the ‘deformed’ cubes and chopped the rest of the butter with a slightly less rigorous regiment.’

I still feel very far removed from the level of the Fat Duck kitchens, but have definitely gotten a better understanding of the strict nature of translating these recipes to actual plates of food for paying customers (and a watchful world for that matter). I almost feel like making every recipe a second time to try and get better at this level of cooking (and do a better job on some earlier dishes), though I can safely say that feeling is squashed by the sheer fear of making the dishes again.

So, this is the end result that will have to make due. By the way I didn’t make the Eel Nichi recipe. Reading the introduction I get the feeling it was more of an experiment and going through the ingredients it probably was. I also found almost no information on this dish and wonder if it was ever served at The Fat Duck. I’ll consider making it if someone sends me all the specialty ingredients, but good luck finding them!

1. Cauliflower Risotto, Carpaccio of Cauliflower, Chocolate Jelly

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