“The plan was to create a breakfast experience with elements of sensory stuff around you: a chicken cock-a-doodle-dooing, the sun streaming through the window, the smell of the coffee. We used yoghurt jelly with mango puree to make a giant boiled egg, and pressure-cooked baked potatoes to look like baked beans. Some of the people that looked up did a double take, and said, ‘I’d love to, but I’ve got to go to work.’ We managed to get three people to try it and in the end it was the people from the train station that came.”
Building giant food that also tastes good - the intention is that no crumb goes to waste - is the kind of technical challenge that would make a grown man weep. “TV programmes have done big food before, but a massive pizza or a massive paella can be disgusting. We wanted to make big stuff so that it engaged people. It’s really important that they eat it, and that brings them together. They get to try some delicious food that’s really pushing the level of surprise and excitement, and get right behind it. None of the food goes to waste. One of the challenges with big food is that, by its nature, the weight bearing down on the bottom part of the food is very heavy. If that food has to be strong enough to support itself, you can’t eat it. It defies physics.”
In Gloucester, 3,000 people turned out to see Blumenthal serve his one-ton ice cream, complete with a three-metre cone and five-metre chocolate flake. His inner science geek comes bounding to the surface. “The ice cream we made took a month and a half to freeze. You’ve got to think about freezing and heat transfer. If we transport the ice cream to go on top of the cone, it has to be craned on. What happens if it melts? When it’s that size, with so much cold mass inside, the outside will start to melt while the inside’s too hard to scoop out. We had to think about the way we made the ice cream and the amount of air we incorporated into it.”
His giant “dunkgestives” also called for big thinking. “We looked at the psychology of dunking. We went to Nottingham University and did some flavour profiling and flavour release tests on which biscuits were good for dunkability. We got a genuinely good scientific discovery, X-rayed the biscuits, and put that all in the biscuits we built for a big dunk.”
Thousands turning out to see Heston and his flake, golden sweetshop tickets distributed to the people of Chesterfield, grown men tearing up over a cuppa – it’s all lovely, but it’s unlikely to resurrect these rituals. Or is it?
“Here in Chesterfield, I walked down the street with no cameras, and it was amazing. People were running out of their doors, out of estate agents, banks and newsagents, to tell me how excited they were about what we were doing,” enthuses Blumenthal.
Would they be just as excited if an old-fashioned sweetshop opened? “After doing something like this, if they’d been touched by some of the magic of it, yes. I think they would.”
Heston's Fantastical Food starts tonight at 9:00pm on Channel 4