We're set to see more of Heston Blumenthal in Australia in
the year to come, but not, it turns out, because he's opening a
restaurant here. Or at least not yet.
The Fat Duck chef's bespectacled face will be beaming at us instead from the shelves of Coles and its advertisements as the British chef teams up with the supermarket to produce a line of name-branded food products for sale in its stores nationwide.
Blumenthal has had a similar relationship with top-end chain Waitrose in his native United Kingdom for the past five years. Coles and Blumenthal are yet to announce what the precise naming and extent of the line will be here in Australia, but Heston from Waitrose covers a broad sweep of the aisles, with everything from a gin flavoured with Earl Grey and lemon to burger patties made in the style he researched for the In Search of Perfection TV show.
Ready-meals are a significant chunk of the Waitrose range: chilli con carne with chilli butter, for instance, or macaroni and cheese tarted up with cauliflower, pecorino and (gulp) truffle oil. But it also includes fresh sea bass fillets with samphire and vanilla butter, salmon smoked over lapsang souchong tea, and a ham-hock terrine, while the sweet options extend to chocolate-coated popping candy, chamomile panna cotta, and salt-caramel popcorn.
The Christmas products Blumenthal produced for Waitrose, including a pudding with a "hidden orange" centre and pine-scented mince pies, have been sell-out successes, and enjoyed similar popularity as a trial release Down Under through Coles last December.
In Australia, Blumenthal's work will be sold across fresh, frozen, bakery and other sections of the store, and he says he wants to use the collaboration with Coles to put the spotlight on top local farms and producers. "Australia has some of the best produce in the world, some of the best beef, and a lot of very interesting indigenous stuff that I've barely heard of, so the idea is to discover more Australian produce together," he says. Because the products planned for the Coles range will be "high-end", he adds, he has a lot more flexibility to do smaller runs with smaller producers than he'd be able to do with Waitrose.
"Some of the differences between here and the UK are interesting, too," he says, citing the quality of bacon made in the traditional British style - something he'd like to look at making here.
These brand extensions, he says, are all about bringing the benefit of the discoveries he and his team have made to a far larger group than just those with the wherewithal to visit his restaurants. "Us chefs like to think we're the centre of the universe, but our restaurants don't really feed that many people… the big impact is on the general public, and supermarkets can do that.
"It's not just about me sticking my name on a packet. We've got three development kitchens now, and I spend a large amount of my time working in them, and the idea is to use some of the techniques we've developed over the last five years for this sort of production."
And what about that rumoured branch at Sydney's Crown development? "The answer is: no, I'm not opening a restaurant in Sydney. Would I like to? Yes, I would."
Blumenthal says Dinner, the restaurant he opened at the Mandarin Oriental in London in 2011, would be the model he'd consider exporting. "Dinner was always designed to be something we could roll out, and the idea is that you could open them in countries where there'd be a historical connection with Britain. You'd have the base menu, but then maybe also dishes that reflect British influence in the country from the past. Because we've got a relationship with Breville and now with Coles, I'm coming to Australia more than ever. Again, nothing's signed up, but I would love to have a restaurant in Australia, definitely."
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