Just when you thought the move to Melbourne was big enough news, Heston Blumenthal has dropped an even bigger bombshell. In an unexpected and somewhat bizarre move, the British chef announced that The Fat Duck would be moving to an all-duck menu.
"I know it sounds strange. Believe me, I understand," said Blumenthal, "but if you look at Beijing or Tokyo, there are plenty of restaurants that just do duck, and this kind of specialisation seems like the logical progression in what we do."
Though precise details are still being worked out on how the transition to the new menu will unfold, Blumenthal has said that many of the dishes that have become Fat Duck signatures will remain. He made mention of the ease with which snail porridge would become duck porridge, how readily the nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice-cream can be refashioned into nitro-scrambled duck-egg and duck-bacon ice-cream, and how the whisky gums, formerly comprising jellied versions of different drams stuck on a map of Scotland, would be rendered as the great duck fats of the world in the form of liquid-centred jelly beans.
One of the most remarkable of the reworkings Blumenthal has described is the famed Sound of the Sea. The original dish explored the connection between auditory prompts and the perception of taste; the diner has hitherto donned headphones to enjoy the immersive experience of the sounds of gulls and lapping waves as they ate the course. Now, with Sound of the Duck, the seafood on the plate remains the same, but the soundtrack is duck calls followed by shotgun blasts. "It's really incredible," enthused Blumenthal. "Where before you thought you were eating seaweed, clams cockles, mussels and other sea life, now, just by changing what you're listening to, it all has the suggestion of duck. Fishy duck, yes, but duck all the same."
Perhaps the most controversial move, though, is Blumenthal's decision to train ducks to deliver certain of the courses - even when those courses contain duck. The ducks in question have been humanely netted along the banks of the Thames, with the approval and assistance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Blumenthal has personally devoted weeks of his own time to teaching them. Blumenthal was quick to assure his fans that ducks that failed to meet the standards for service wouldn't automatically end up on the menu. "They're as much a part of the team as any of us, and we'd hardly poach one of the other waiters in liquorice gel and serve them with a vanilla anglaise just because they dropped a spoon, would we?"
It was in fact this radical front-of-house project, the chef revealed, that was behind the need to close the restaurant in England for an extended period and move the business to Melbourne for most of the year. "When you think about it, the training and fattening of 90 ducks to replace up to two-thirds of our floor staff" - the ducks have thus far proven incapable of pouring wine - "is a gargantuan task, and one we needed to completely clear out the restaurant at Bray to accomplish."
As ever, no matter how loopy his proposals, Blumenthal has no shortage of historical precedents to cite as inspiration. "You only have to look to Chaucer detailing the training of water-fowl at inns in "The Cook's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales, or the interlude in the first-folio version of King Lear where Gloucester drinks tea brought to him by a tame goose," he said. "And British history is rife with examples of this sort of hospitality, whether it's the famed Tudor toast-swans, or the flock of tame whisky-geese maintained by the late Queen Mother at Balmoral. It's only fitting that we carry on the tradition, be it with mallards, grebes or loons."
The Fat Duck's all-duck menu is expected to make its first appearance before noon on 1 April 2016.