Heston Blumenthal has a weekly programme on BBC2 at the moment where he attempts the ultimate, definitive - perfect, even - version of a favourite dish. A bold claim, although as a three Michelin-starred chef and owner of what has been awarded the title "Best Restaurant in the World" he may just pull it off.
Boldest of all, perhaps, the recipes are intended to be executed by the viewers at home.
I was familiar with Blumenthal only through some articles in the Observer Food Monthly magazine. It was something about chunky chips cooked in fresh straw. Consequently, I wasn't surprised to see perfectionist tendencies rise straight to the surface; when researching the dish - black forest gateau - he not only tries some English varieties (notably from a supermarket - "white stuff on top, not cream") but goes straight to its home, Baden-Baden. Later in the programme he returns to the home of kirsch, apparently the key to the dish, not chocolate as we may have thought, to sample the taste.
To compare him with an established British TV chef, Gordon Ramsey, Blumenthal is quite different in manner - politely spoken - and in appearance more of a cookery nerd (especially when he starts talking about the bubbles trapped in chocolate - more on that later) than the ex-footballer Ramsey. However, he has similar cookery credentials and a similar passion for food. Upon realising the six layers of black forest gateau may be his biggest challenge, he clearly relishes the challenge...like Ramsey, he cares. Most people can't see that past Ramsey's blunt manner; with a similar passion, Blumenthal may turn prove an equally talented presenter, only perhaps more palatable than the already-established Ramsey (not that swearing has done him any harm, admittedly).
Back in kitchen, one epiphany arrives after another. An example: the chocolate should be aerated. Not a surprise, perhaps, from the man who favours a scientific approach to cooking. His vacuum pump is soon replaced by a perforated Tupperware container sitting inside a particular brand of vacuum bag (with a valve, crucially!) attached to a Dyson vacuum cleaner - a concession necessary because he understands that few viewers will have a real vacuum pump.
The rest of the dish is treated similarly lavishly and you think he's done...but then - in order to shape the various layers now accumulated - of which the vacuum-powered chocolate is only one - into a proper block, he suggests freezing the block of gateau in the freezer. Suitably shaped, it's only a small leap of the imagination to load a paint sprayer with chocolate and apply a pepple-dashed exterior.
After this, it's relatively straightforward to adapt the biscuit base into "edible wood" by patterning the base with some painter's tools dipped in chocolate. A few vanilla stalks with a knot tied in the top and inserted into the sour cherries inserted into eight holes in the top fashioned with a melon baller....and we have the perfect black forest gateau!
Can't wait to try it!