INTERVIEW: DOUGLAS BLYDE
The modernist chef’s latest restaurant, Dinner, recently came ninth in The World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards – this year’s highest new entry. He talks about centrifuges, pizza and Willy Wonka...
Electricity was groundbreaking once. When I devised a skimmed milk-based crab sorbet in 1997, some people expressed shock horror. But when I described it as ‘frozen crab bisque’, no one batted an eyelid. Now I’ve got mustard ice cream in Waitrose.
My love of shiny gadgets is in inverse proportion to always having the patience to use them! My favourite kitchen gadget is a lab-grade Rocket centrifuge, which splits and vacuums, boils water as low as 15 degrees, and ensures purity of flavour.
Outside the professional kitchen, I’ve broken a domestic oven trying to achieve 500 degrees to bake a pizza. I tricked the thermostat by putting it on ‘cleaning’, then added domestic coal in a roasting tray. Unfortunately, the seals melted...
While The Hinds Head has a natural beauty, I’d like to re-do The Fat Duck. However, because of the building’s nature we’d have to close for six months – a major decision considering we employ 100 staff for the Duck alone.
I remember my parents taking me to a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence when I was a kid: the crickets, crunch of the gravel, the lavender aroma…I’d like The Fat Duck to become more multi-sensory, with walls changing to fit a dish or mood. I’ve been looking at directional speakers for example, but you need a clean shape rather than our low ceilings, nooks and crannies.
The Fat Duck is one of Britain’s most expensive restaurants to dine at, and to run. I’ve never had a business model, and as time has gone on, I’ve reduced covers and expanded the back of house. I’ve just closed on Sundays, meaning we’ve one of the shortest opening hours of any of the three stars. As a result, it’s the best it’s ever been. I ate there on my son’s birthday (my fourth time in 17 years). Service was fun with lots of theatre; I want customers’ shoulders to go down the moment they walk in.
I’m often likened to the fictional Willy Wonka. I’m friends with Felicity Dahl [Roald Dahl’s widow]. ‘How wonderful,’ she said when she first came to lunch, ‘if only my husband were alive to see the real Willy Wonka.’ On another occasion at her home, I felt my glass of champagne being lifted. In its place, Felicity placed a brown folder: the handwritten manuscript of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In their home, she has preserved Roald Dahl’s writing hut down to his worn armchair and bar heater.
My development lab is my ‘hut’. I was ‘modelled’ by the person who brought NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) to Britain, and the feedback echoed the Willy Wonka theme, using the metaphor of me being a kid in a sweet shop. So I asked my assistant to locate a sweet shop’s bell (she could find a four-handled teapot if I asked) and put it on my lab door. ‘Ding-a-ling-a-ling!’ All very well for 10 minutes until so many people came in and out that it got ripped off by day two! thefatduck.co.uk