Sunday, 27 April 2008

Experimental Kitchen

Via the Guardian books blog, I recently came across a site called which is trying to compile a definitive list of the world's favourite books based on the submission of its readers' top fives. I assume it is still in its infancy given that My Take by that literary giant Gary Barlow is currently at number 13 ahead of the likes of Jane Eyre (51), War and Peace (65), and The Chronicles of Narnia (390).

Sadly, I haven't read Gary Barlow's autobiography so I shouldn't really comment on its position in the list. It may be really good. He did write A Million Love Songs, after all. What I really want to know is where is my first choice, my favorite book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

I may have spent four years at university studying high brow works of literature but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will always be my favorite book in the world. Willie Wonka is my hero, an eccentric, creative genius who believes that eating is not just about taste, it's about theatre and experience. Lickable wallpaper, fizzy-lifting drink, three-course meal gum: such wonderful, innovative concepts that had me salivating over my copy and that would have modern Health and Safety inspectors dribbling over their clipboards. As the great Gene Wilder sang in the original film version of the book:

There is no
Life I know
To compare with
Pure imagination
Living there
You'll be free
If you truly wish to be

Heston Blumenthal has often been called a real life Willy Wonka and it's not surprising that the next launch from The Fat Duck will be an online sweet shop. The look of wonder on the faces of Richard E Grant and Terry Wogan at Heston's Perfect Christmas Dinner reminded me of the wide-eyed children as they enter Wonka's factory and frolic around his edible landscape taking bites out of toadstools and plucking sugary flowers. Detractors call it gimmickery. I call it pure imagination.

Is this kind of inventiveness possible in the domestic kitchen? During my time at Bacchus I was shown a technique called spherification that allows you to turn liquid preparations into spherical "ravioli" or even create your own "caviar" in all sorts of flavours. I was sufficiently enthralled by the idea to request a Texturas mini starter kit for my birthday, and last week it arrived along with an ISI cream whipper for making espumas and delicate foams. I'm sure as the postman arrived I could hear some chanting in the air...

Oompa loompa doompatee doo
I've got a lovely present for you
Ooopa loompa doompatee dee
It's a reverse spherification kit from the guys at El Bulli!

or maybe I was just hearing things again. Either way, my kitchen is turning into a lab and I can see numerous weekends ahead mixing gels and powders in an effort to produce perfect spheres of fruit puree that explode in the mouth on biting. Well I might as well plan some activities for another rainy British summer!


James said...

But all those interesting doors he goes past on his way though, if I was Charlie I'd be going in each one of them.....

warriorgrrl said...

Dear Pete

I'm just writing to let you know that Anthony Silverbrow from the blog Silverbrow On Food was singing your praises in an interview we did with him recently - you can read it here:

Best wishes

Pete said...

Hi Laura

Yes, I saw Anthony's (and Aidan's) interviews at trusted places. They have two of my favorite blogs so a good choice for your site.