Ah, Heston Blumenthal, the world’s oldest baby. Ideal candidate for a wide-eyed, culinary rejuvenation of the Roald Dahl classic, ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’, don’t you think? Well, ideal if rejuvenation means transposition to the 1960s and the introduction of guffawing celebs to provide absolutely no critical thought to what they’re excitedly shoving down their gullets. You know the format by now – said celebs sit down and proceed to giggle, gawp and guzzle their way through Heston’s feast, this time inspired by Willy Wonka’s barmy (and decidedly unsafe) brand of cuisine.
First things first, it’s time to meet our celeb panel. It’s almost too good to be true. TV’s Ben Shepherd, TV’s Tim Lovejoy, acting’s Tamsin Egerton, music’s Mica Paris, music’s Patti Boulaye and radio’s Mike Read, who’s starting to look uncannily like Cliff Richard’s lesbian daughter. Heston himself, though, is still incredibly awkward on camera, speaking as if he’s reading a poem about the local cathedral in year 3 assembly. “The nineteen-sixties was an incredible decade,” he grates. “To begin with, I was born.” Pause for laughter. Brilliant. Best left to the professionals, eh? Let Heston concentrate on firing gobstopper cannonballs into densely populated areas or whatever it is he normally does.
Actually, the first thing he’s going to make is lickable wallpaper. Standing in his kitchen-lab, it becomes strangely obvious that there’s an Oompa-Loompa standing in the background peeling some spuds or something, but rather than draw attention to it, Heston just ploughs on regardless. He probably employed him on the strength of his references. Anyway, the lickable wallpaper starts to come together, and different flavours are plastered up. In fact, the paper is plastered up using apple-flavoured glue, which the guests will never even taste. Still, they seem impressed when it becomes clear that they to haul themselves over to the wall and start licking. Tim Lovejoy seems particularly pleased about this, but then again he probably licks the walls at home as well. Anything to get rid of the taste of his own bollocks.
Heston might think he’s ready to open his own Chocolate Factory, but his feast certainly shows that his ideas need streamlining, at least for the sake of the viewing audience. Either that or just ram a firework up the arse of everything he cooks and be done with it.
First course done, we move on to… what, we’re still on starters? The wallpaper was apparently only an amuse bouche, and the main starter will be magic mushrooms. Or, at least it sort-of will be. As Heston wisely points out (for the comfort of his lawyers), magic mushrooms are illegal and he’ll have to travel to the arse-end of Italy to bid on some mushrooms that are related to magic mushrooms and contain no psychedelic qualities whatsoever. It’s probably better this way, Patti Boulaye doesn’t need any more psychedelics to convince us that she’s mad as a bag of flapjack. Still, all this gives Heston a chance to serve smoking turf and leaves as a starter. All the more worrying, though, is when he produces a bucket that contains “the smell of woodland”. One can only assume it’s full to the brim with deer excrement and mangled rodents, but apparently it’s the scent of an autumnal forest. Which is obviously much nicer.
On to the main course then, and it’s duck a l’orange. But it’s no ordinary duck a l’orange, because Heston’s trying to smoke his duck from the inside out. Plainly put, this involves going to the local fire station, shoving fireworks up a dead duck’s arse and seeing if that cooks it. He’s so infuriatingly polite and scientific about the whole process - it would be more apposite and endearing if he just gave in and shouted, “I’M MENTAL, ME, WATCH ME BLOW UP A FUCKING DUCK!” When the orange smoke has cleared, Heston tastes a bit and immediately spits it out. “That is not for eating,” he says. Suppose I’d better cancel that order of incinerated duck anus then. Even better, he then abandons the idea completely and serves an orange globe of duck parfait in a Terry’s Chocolate Orange box. Yum.
Dessert is, obviously, a chocolate waterfall that unmixes chocolate down to its constituent parts. Heston gets his inspiration not only from Roald Dahl for this one, but also from some sort of demented support group who have turned chocolate addiction and alcoholism into a social activity. Basically, they get pissed and squirt chocolate all over each other while wearing revealing outfits, and Heston’s about to get involved. After he makes a disgusting-sounding cocktail of white rum, Bailey’s and chocolate liqueur, he pops over to a garden centre to ruin their afternoon by running molten chocolate through a water feature – as one employee sadly points out, “I’ve got to clean that later.” “Where’s your sense of adventure?!” booms Heston in retort. It probably vanished as soon as he saw you, Heston.
Meanwhile, Heston’s diners are permitted a small break in which they can vomit chunks of pureed duck carcass. When they return, the chocolate waterfall is in full swing, and they all set about dunking their faces in it. “Oh my God…” pipes up Tamsin, “That’s chocolate!” To be fair to her, after all the mushrooms and duck and wallpaper and pastilles and parfait, it’s not surprising that she’s forgotten that this evening had anything to do with Willy Wonka. Chocolate-flavoured water to finish seems another rather pointless exercise, a scientific process just for the sake of it, but the guests seem extremely pleased.
The whole thing makes you hanker for some actual aggravation in the kitchen. In particular, the scenes where Heston is watching the diners on a TV screen in the kitchen would be so much better if Gordon Ramsay was involved – you can almost hear him shouting at his idling sous chefs, “STOP WATCHING TELLY AND CLEAN MY FUCKING BUNSEN BURNERS!” But that’s wishful thinking. Heston might think he’s ready to open his own Chocolate Factory, but his feast certainly shows that his ideas need streamlining, at least for the sake of the viewing audience. Either that or just ram a firework up the arse of everything he cooks and be done with it.
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