Heston Blumenthal: how education is stifling imagination and why quantum gastronomy is the future

William Drew - 01/11/2021


Genius chef turned culinary philosopher Heston Blumenthal provided a plethora of provocative soundbites from his recent keynote address as part of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 event programme in Antwerp, Flanders. Prepare to soak up seven distinct statements on cooking, connectivity and the human condition

The man behind Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck, part of the Best of the Best group of former No.1 restaurants, took to the stage at Food Meets Talent by S.Pellegrino. Blumenthal’s landmark presentation spanned human evolution, fear as motivation, the perils of conventional education and the mysteries of quantum gastronomy. Here you can digest the revolutionary chef’s wide-ranging philosophy at your own pace...

1. Cooking made us human

“Our relationship with food is what has made us human beings. We are the only species that can make fire. We made systems, as our frontal lobe grew as a result of cooking – digesting food, protecting bacteria – we invented language, we invented religion, we invented money, we invented time, we invented music, we invented social media. We invented many forms of human connectivity. which is fantastic. But now we have become human doings, not human beings. We have more connections than we've ever had, but we’re less connected.”

2. Slaying the dragons of fear

“I’ve spent the last three years living in France and recently, thanks to Covid, I've spent more time with myself than ever before in my life. So things have started to come out; [things] I would have considered weaknesses: guilt, for example. I mean, guilt is a categorisation, it’s language, but fear of rejection, fear of not being loved – it's come out. There’s something called ‘slaying the dragon’, the hero's journey, which is the very famous mechanism of storytelling that George Lucas used for the Star Wars movies. I've been in the process of slaying my dragons, and then embracing them and integrating them and learning from them, and I now I want to [use that to] help others…

“Above the fireplace in The Hind’s Head, my pub in Bray, there’s a 350-year-old phrase in gold leaf. It says, ‘Fear knocks on the door. Faith answered, and no one was there.’ We’re all scared. Without fear or adversity, we don't have anything to work on. If we get stuck in fear, then it becomes a syndrome, then we become a victim. But we do need some level of pressure with something we love that lets us work for our own reward.”
Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, The Fat Duck, serves many unusual dishes such as botrytis cinerea, a necrotrophic fungus

3. Change your perspective, change your feelings

“Three weeks ago, I went to the beach with my wife and my daughter in France. I forgot to put some suntan lotion [on the back of my leg]. So the next morning I woke up with a lobster-red calf. I decided to use the discomfort of my sunburn as a memory of the wonderful moments I had with my daughter. The feeling changed. And all I had done is change my perspective.”

4. Why education is killing imagination

“The education system, through language, tells us that failing is the worst thing a human being can do. You make mistakes, you feel judged, we point fingers – do this, don't do that, stop that, go here – and that kills creativity. Our education system, as a result of industrialisation, has placed English and Maths above creativity and imagination. When our imagination is gone, we are f*cked. We cannot do a single thing if we lose the uniqueness and the beauty of human imagination. So [in terms of] sustainability, we need urgently to celebrate and sustain human imagination. I didn’t cry until I was 45 years old, now I have found something that I cry about often: the beauty of human imagination. Picasso said that we’re all born artists. The difficulty is to remain an artist as we grow older. Talent is impossible without imagination – there is nothing more important.”
Heston Blumenthal presenting his keynote speech at Food Meets Talent in Antwerp, Flanders

5. Proving I’m not an idiot

“I loved my mum. But as a child I was called stupid, useless, an idiot, pathetic… I know she loved me –  she's dead now – but I felt I was stupid. I felt I had to prove something to people. I have extreme ADHD, but that wasn’t invented 50 years ago. I have a mind that works very fast. I don't know how fast anyone else's mind works, but I know mine works very fast. When it is in flow, I can make connections that other people can't make. I’ve spent 25 years changing the world of gastronomy without realising it, and won all the awards that a white ginger-haired left-handed Jewish man could win, and had all these achievements. That was just me trying to show people I wasn’t an idiot.”

6. Questions without answers

“I’m the only person in the world to have a coat of arms with a motto that says 'Question everything'. Six or seven years ago, I wanted to change the name of The Fat Duck to ‘If The Fat Duck is not a restaurant, what is it?’ That’s a question without an answer. Questions without answers are wonderful, they are what keep us going.”
The interior of Heston Blumenthal's restaurant in the Best of the Best list, The Fat Duck

7. Introducing quantum gastronomy

“I’m writing a book called Quantum Gastronomy. This is my future. Quantum says one thing can exist in a minimum of two different states at the same time… The book is going to be in two halves: you can follow the recipe as in a professional kitchen. That is a human ‘doing’, linear, controlled manufacturing process. Or you can fall into a grain of rice. You can tell a fairy tale around the story of the grain of rice. It depends on your perspective. You can think about how you're feeling when you're cooking. You can cook with love. You can cook with gratitude. You can see how your gut’s feeling. You can cook with emotion. Quantum gastronomy is the practice or art of choosing, cooking and eating good food with a quantum perspective.”

Read more about The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 on 50 Best Stories, which was announced on October 5, 2021 in Antwerp, Flanders. To stay up to date with the latest news, join the community on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.