Chewing the fat
Cooking all the recipes featured in a cookbook and detailing the process on a blog isn't a new idea. It's been done before with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking; the blogger, Julie Powell, turned it into a book, Julie & Julia, which was later made into a film starring Meryl Streep. It's also been done with Thomas Keller's The French Laundry; Grant Achatz's Alinea; and David Chang's Momofuku.
The Big Fat Undertaking website (thebigfatundertaking.wordpress.com) details the efforts of Dutch student Auldo as he cooks his way through Heston Blumenthal's The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. He writes that he chose to cook his way through this particular book as a 'personal rebellion against contemporary cookbooks and cooking shows always aimed at making everything easier'. Like Blumenthal, he wanted to know why food acts the way it does.
Named after Blumenthal's Michelin three- star restaurant in Bray, England, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook has recipes that would be difficult to make even in a professional kitchen filled with specialised equipment, such as a freeze-dryer, vacuum machine and sous-vide water bath. Auldo, who attended cookery school but whose professional experience consists of working for 10 days in a Spanish restaurant, has none of that. But somehow he makes do.
He categorises his renditions of the recipes according to how many days each takes. The longest (the coconut baccy) is seven and involves ingredients such as brown carbonised vegetable powder and codium seaweed, and techniques such as cracking open a coconut (he smashes it with a knife then throws it on the ground), scraping out the flesh, cooking it for five hours, drying it for six, then letting it infuse for five days with Black Cavendish tobacco.
Less intensive recipes include mandarin aerated chocolate, vegetarian pot au feu and nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse.
Auldo finished the project in December 2010. Last year, while visiting England, he met Blumenthal at his London restaurant, Dinner. Auldo says the chef was astonished that the student managed to make the recipes without all the equipment. Blumenthal invited Auldo to be his guest at The Fat Duck, where he finally tasted some of the dishes he had attempted in his home kitchen. To his great pleasure, he found that his own dishes measured up to those of the celebrity chef.