Optomen for Channel 4
The challenge To bring Heston Blumenthal's historic recipes to the table for four extravagant feasts
On Heston's Feasts we hoped to come up with the food of the future by looking at the past. Heston loves reading old recipes and putting his own twist on them. We had to reflect his sense of humour and ability to think against the grain. You don't know where he's going to take you next, so the challenge for director Jay Taylor, set designer David Weare and I was to come up with ways of cooking and presenting his food that were fun and would be visually exciting.
For the Roman episode - the last in the four-part series - we had to cook a huge Trojan hog in a water bath. To create a bath that was big enough, we adapted a hot tub so we could turn the temperature up to 58°C and then cooked the hog for 24 hours.
We also worked closely with the team at Heston's restaurant, The Fat Duck, who developed the food. The Tudor feast in episode three included one of their creations: a mythical beast called a cockentrice that Heston made from pork, goose, chicken and lamb stuck together with protein glue. Producer Patrick Furlong came up with the idea of using a taxidermist to build the outside of the cockentrice from the animals' bodies. We covered it with nitrocellulose, which looks like lamb's wool but is edible. When the dish was served, the “wool” was ignited and appeared to explode and disappear, revealing the joint of meat inside.
David has the ability to deliver amazing results on a shoestring. As well as working on the food, he designed the sets for the show, including a Roman dining room and an Alice in Wonderland-style garden for the Victorian episode.
Two other important influences on the series were Channel 4 commissioner Liam Humphries and executive producer Pat Llewellyn, who made sure we balanced entertainment with cookery. They encouraged us to take risks, which paid off. For example, Liam suggested Heston should take part in an absinthe-drinking contest, which inspired him to make an absinthe jelly.
Sometimes we had to temper our ambitions. Although we wanted live blackbirds to fly out of a pie for the medieval feast, they are neither edible nor domesticated so we used dark pigeons instead. The team never said “We can't do that,” but always asked “How can we do that?”
Heston's Tudor Feast airs on Channel 4 on 17 March at 9pm.