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How hard is it to cook like a fancy TV chef? A Spinoff culinary experiment

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal makes elite home cuisine look possible with little more than an old mushroom and an iron. But how achievable are his recipes? Tara Ward watches How to Cook Like Heston to find out. 

For those of you who think being adventurous in the kitchen means using a non-stick frypan, How to Cook Like Heston will blow your mind. Chef Heston Blumenthal spends his days transforming regular food into spectacular moments of culinary brilliance, using traditional kitchen implements like dry ice, power tools and ironing boards. What’s more, he reckons we can do it, too.

Oh Heston, how little you know me.

It’s episode five (cheese) and Heston’s reinterpretation of classic ’70s fondue that has me lighting up my blow torch and burning a giant hole in my kitchen with excitement. In a giddy haze of curds and whey, Heston promises that together we’ll make the “richest, glossiest, stringiest fondue you could ever imagine”. I am also a classic ’70s dish, so I feel this can only end well.

Spoiler alert: it does not end well.

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When cheese calls, I answer. Grate it, barbeque it, knit it into a shower proof poncho: Heston’s cheese world is mine for the taking. I want to learn how to iron cheese and yes, I long to stretch a piece of cheese from my kitchen to the back garden. But most importantly, do I want to cook cheese like Heston?

Course I bloody fondue.

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How hard can it be? Surely any idiot can melt cheese. But if Stringy Cheese is the Mt Everest of home cooking, then let’s knock this bastard off.

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Heston and I begin our elastic journey into rennet utopia by choosing the perfect cheese. Heston has an impressive smorgasbord of cheese, all with exotic names and fancy wrappers. They’re the types of cheeses you buy when you’re making a nibbles platter, like it’s something you threw together at the last minute when really it cost you $73 and that’s the last time you’re having people over if all they’re going to eat is the salami.

Putting my longstanding platter issues to one side, Heston suggests using young, rubbery cheeses like Gruyère, Emmental, and Comte. They sound like hipster baby names to me, but Heston reckons they’ll give the fondue a “nutty, alpine” taste. I survey my own cheese selection: half a bag of pre-grated Edam, on special at Pak ‘n’ Save. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

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Things take a darker turn when Heston instructs me to tip a truckload of white wine into a pot, claiming this is the “bit of magic” that will put spring to my string. Just hold on one dairy loving minute, Chef. I need spring in my string like the next joker, but if there’s one place I’m chucking a bottle of wine it’s down my gullet, not into some gluggy ball of elasticated carbohydrate.

Chelsea Winter would never do this to me.

Next, Heston chucks in some sherry that is infused with rosemary and garlic. Sherry! Who am I, Mavis from Coronation Street?

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Pretty sure cooking isn’t an exact science like physics or parallel parking, so I chuck in extra wine instead of sherry. The ratio of cheese to wine now seems slightly uneven, meaning this could be the most alcoholic piece of cheese I’ll ever eat. At this rate, I’ll be that tipsy mother at the kindy pickup who stinks of cheese, and I promised that wouldn’t happen twice.

Finally, Heston instructs me to whisk the cheese until it thickens. I obey like an obedient child, desperate to please the grown-up but mostly here to lick the bowl. For what feels like three long winters, I stand at my stove, stirring, waiting for the cheese to thicken.

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Things I think about while I whisk: does The Spinoff have a cheese budget? Is it rude to ask how old a cheese is? Should I macramé some curtains with my stringy cheese, or knit myself a charming cheese bikini? I feel like I’m standing atop of the cheese universe, staring at the sticky world below like the dairy queen I was born to be. This is going to be great.

This is not great. While I glare at my runny puddle of drunk cheese, Heston moves on and invites a gaggle of firemen to compare the length of their cheese strings. What better use of my tax dollars than to invite the emergency services to partake in this glorious cheddar extravaganza? I’ll get on the blower to 111 as soon as this pathetic vat of watery slop stops mocking me.

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The episode ends, as does my will to live. I throw my whisk in the sink in disgust. My feeble cheese soup lies silently in the pot, less fondue, more fondon’t. I have no cheese string bikini, no superhero cheese cape, but even worse, I have no wine or cheese left. I cannot look Heston in the eye.

Heston, I am sorry.

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Heston doesn’t care. He’s elbow deep in his own nutty cheese nirvana, pulling fondue from one corner of the room to another, like a frenzied cheese Spiderman ready to trap his prey. “It’s amazing that a chunk of cheese can be turned into this,” he raves.

My thoughts exactly.


Think you can do better than Tara? Watch How to Cook Like Heston on Lightbox for major chef gains

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