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Heston's Feasts

Nicola Mostyn no longer wonders what the Romans did for us

Published on March 30th 2009.

Heston's Feasts

Apparently in Roman times they used to have food orgies. Lovers of feasts and connoisseurs of extravagant and outlandish dishes, they would, as Roman philosopher Seneca put it, "vomit so that they may eat and eat so that they may vomit." John Prescott was in good company.

Happily, in this fourth and last part of Heston Blumenthal's culinary escapades, the chef draws the line at celebrities blowing chunks, for which we should be grateful. After all, there's not much that Heston won't do with food.

I like Blumenthal. With his round head, ginger colouring, white jacket and spectacles, he reminds me of a Muppet baby - the love child of Beaker and Dr Bunsen. Add to this the chef's George's Marvelous Medicine-esque approach to meal times and Heston is more appealing than all the other celebrity chefs combined. Okay, that's not so difficult.

"I think food should be fun," he says. " A delight to the senses. A delicious spectacular adventure with every bite." Which is why he's on a mission to plunder myth, science and history to create some astounding meals.

This time, it's a feast inspired by Caligula. Six guests will sample Heston's fare: comedians Danny Wallace and Alexander Armstrong, actress Greta Scacchi, The Marques of Bath, presenter Lisa Butcher and food critic Matthew Fort.

In almost direct contravention of the word, Heston serves pork nipple scratchings as an appetiser, snipping the nipples from pigskins and then seasoning them. I don't even like saying pigs' nipples, let alone eating them and I'm not alone. Faced with the nobbly delicacies, Wallace looks nauseas. The Marques of Bath, however, seems right at home. The Marques has a huge beard, a beret and a shirt with a Bermuda print. Also, he's bonkers. "I love pork scratchings, and I'm always complaining that they're not scratchy enough so I love it when I find it scratchy," he says. Righto.

Next is Calves Brain Custard which is a disgusting idea. I can't stand custard. Apparently Heston found this in an old Roman recipe book but is challenged somewhat by the fact that a crucial ingredient called garam - fermented fish guts - no longer exists. Garam was hugely popular with the Romans and was also used as a cosmetic and for treating dog bites. A foodstuff that can treat an open wound? Sounds like a ragu I once made.

Heston decided to make his own garam and followed the Roman recipe for brain custard. The resulting paste looked like pink Pollyfilla. "Actually, it's nowhere near as bad as it smells," he said. The times I've heard that over dinner, I've taken it as a compliment. Not content, the chef takes a different tack and creates a delicate custard flavored with fish guts and then deep fries the brains.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is just a potato croquette," says Wallace fearfully. Yeah, pet, and those nipples were just hairy Frazzles.

For his main exhibit, Heston wants to shock and astound with a Trojan Hog - a roasted pig from which intestines (actually sausages) tumble when sliced. To work out how he's going to achieve this gastronomic feat, he goes to Italy and finds a crazy butcher to help him make the sausages. Blumenthal seems nonplussed to find mad Pepe tootling through a rolled up piece of pork like it’s a trumpet, then garlanding him with a bony crown, as though he hasn't himself been cutting out individual pigs boobs some hours previously. Seems there's only room for one crazy chef in this show.

Once he has some ideas for sausages, Heston has another problem. How is he going to cook this enormous pig? The answer is in a Roman bath. Well, a spa, anyway. The pig is sloshed into a hot tub in its plastic bag, much like a tropical fish being introduced to a new tank. The hot tub water has been heated up to 60 degrees, "which will cook the pig through if left for 24 hours." Something to bear in mind if you've got a dicky thermostat.

Once cooked, it is basted in garam and the sausage entrails are inserted using an endoscope, to make sure they are in the right place. You have to hand it to Blumenthal-he knows how to make sensational food. And the guests are delighted. "This is the kind of vulgar, coarse humour the Romans would have loved!" says Matthew Fort.

Hang on, Matthew, you ain't seen nothing yet. There's sperm pudding for afters.Well, okay not sperm pudding. But an ejaculating dessert. "Where better to start than in the car park," asks Heston. Interesting association, Blumenthal. Who are you, Steve McFadden? Heston and his team of chefs then have great fun, playing like little boys, putting Mintoes in bottle of coke and making cakes explode. Eventually, after much experimentation, he comes up with a white chocolate mousse made with a popping candy base which spurts orange liquid when the sauce is poured. The guests are duly impressed.

"It's an orgasm in the mouth. It's a mouthgasm," says Lisa Butcher, coining a phase I feel is unlikely to catch on. "I got off on that, it was very sexy," says Scacchi, sounding like she rather wanted to be left alone with the dessert. Hold on Greta, we'll sling you in the hot tub with your cake, make a night of it. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if you wake in the morning and find that Heston's made you into a coulis. At the very least, I'd count your nipples.

Heston's Feasts is available on 4OD

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