Learning to ‘Cook like Heston’ at Nelson and Colne College.

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 May 2015

The wow factor

The wow factor


When is an egg not an egg? When it is coconut and mango, of course! Emma Mayoh delves into the world of Heston Blumenthal inspired food at Nelson and Colne College

Eggs (made of coconut puree and mango puree) on BriocheEggs (made of coconut puree and mango puree) on Brioche

I’ve always been fascinated by Heston Blumenthal’s cookery. I’d often sit agog as he served up fantastical food like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory inspired feasts, food served in giant Cinderella pumpkins, sushi made into edible money and snail porridge. He even persuaded, albeit temporarily, the bosses from Little Chef to ditch some of their old dishes and replace them with Scottish mussels, braised ox cheeks and chocolate fondue. My particular favourite – although not the epitome of fine dining, I confess - was his successful attempt to serve up a giant pot of tea and biscuits to the bemused people of Darwen.

But watching the world renowned chef is the limit of my contribution to the culinary world. So I jumped at the opportunity to don my pinny and attempt to cook some dishes inspired by the innovative chef on a special Cook like Heston course at Nelson and Colne College.

It is part of a series of classes at the campus this year, from pasta making to delicious desserts and how to create great dinner party food.

The man behind the Cook like Heston course is 36-year-old Burnley born Mark Taft, an accomplished chef who has worked all over the world including at three Michelin starred restaurants.

Making ice cream using nitrogenMaking ice cream using nitrogen

He has helped The Angel Inn at Hetton achieve three rosettes while working there as head chef, he consults for the highly successful Seafood Pub Company and worked as a development chef for foods created with Heston’s endorsement. He also runs his own business, Northern Hospitality Solutions, providing fine dining experiences in the comfort of your own home.

The course was created so people could to learn about the science behind some of Heston’s hallmark techniques like working with dry ice, liquid nitrogen, exploding balls and a cake that cooks in 15 seconds.

Mark, who now lives in Barnoldswick with wife Terrie and their young children Joshua and Lucas, said: ‘I love the science behind this kind of cooking and it is fantastic to be able to share my passion for it with other people.

‘I would like to take it forward and do lots more courses like this, something that is a little bit different...that fires people’s imaginations.’

Luckily for me we started off small – a simple Jerusalem artichoke soup. Even more fortuitous was that Mark had patience by the plate load. When I needed showing the simplest of tasks - how to chop vegetables without losing a finger - many would have wanted to frogmarch me out of the kitchen. But Mark was encouraging and keen to help even the most hapless.

The soup course, which would eventually be transformed into an Alice in Wonderland Eat Me Drink Me Truffled Jerusalem Artichoke soup, along with the next course of shellfish bisque which formed the base of a mock turtle soup, was a gentle introduction. But the pace picked up when our attention turned to fish and chips. As you would expect on a Heston-influenced course, this was no ordinary, everyday dish. The fish was cooked in batter flavoured with beer and vodka and the chips were triple cooked, once in a sous vide, a slow cooking water bath contraption used by chefs the world over to create consistent, flavour packed food.

I felt like I wasn’t doing too bad a job, with encouragement from Mark. But putting in a much better show of things were talented young chefs Megan Wych from Colne and George Ingham from Burnley who are cookery students at the college. Nelson and Colne College has a well-deserved reputation for producing culinary stars of the future and 18-year-old Megan, recently named Apprentice of the Year and George, 17, were no exception.

George, who works at Bertram’s Restaurant at Crow Wood Leisure in Burnley, has big ambitions to own his own restaurant or run the kitchens of top restaurants. He already has work experience at top dining establishments in the pipeline. Learning the techniques used by a culinary whizz like Heston Blumenthal is something he relished.

He said: ‘It is absolutely fascinating and exciting to learn new techniques like this. It has made me want to do more of it. ‘I’m lucky to get this opportunity. It’s not something everyone gets a chance to do.’

As the day passed the culinary tasks got more difficult and more exciting. We were introduced to liquid nitrogen using a specialist flat plate that used cold instead of heat to cook things. We made egg on toast. Or so it seemed.

Although it looked like the breakfast favourite, it was actually a sweet dish with coconut and mango puree used to create a wonderful illusion. We also made a molten chocolate soufflé, a deconstructed gin and tonic and a chocolate sponge, infused with laughing gas, that look just 15 seconds to cook in the microwave.

But we finally got to crack open the liquid nitrogen in a big way when it came to making ice cream. As you would imagine this came with a twist. Rather than a creamy vanilla or super strawberry concoction, our ice cream was bacon and egg flavoured. Not only that but, with the help of the liquid nitrogen, the ice cream was created instantly.

People would probably tell me protective goggles and gloves are standard for my kitchen experiments. But it was an absolutely essential for our ice cream making session. There was an incredible thrill in popping the top off the specially designed canister of dry ice which had a temperature of minus 197.5 degrees. And a slight feeling of terror as you poured it into the blender, knowing that less than ten seconds of contact with it on your hands could result in losing a finger.

The result was incredible. Several gallons of liquid nitrogen later – or at least that’s what it seemed like – there was a perfectly smooth ice cream with the unusual taste of bacon and egg.

Mark served up the food we had created in a very Heston, showman-like manner.

Dry ice infused with a mossy smell spilled over the table in an Alice in Wonderland themed course and the unusual flavour and texture combinations we’d been learning all day were put to good use. The different courses offered an unusual sensation as well as quite an experience.

I think I skipped home that evening, high on all of the wonderful things I had learned – or maybe that was the laughing gas.

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