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It won’t surprise anyone vaguely familiar with the unstoppable force that is Heston Blumenthal to discover, as he did just months ago, that he has ADHD.
“Like, quite extreme,” he tells me when we meet in Melbourne during a break in filming this year’s MasterChef season.
We’re supposed to be talking about the show but, as usual with Heston, the conversation careens around a dizzying array of topics – from quantum theory and sweaty heads (he has one) to Auschwitz survivors and the Gregorian calendar.
There’s even a lengthy discussion about human evolution and his theory that cooking our food caused such dramatic changes to the human gut and brain that we became the most powerful creatures on Earth. From Neanderthal to Blumenthal, you might say.
But given his recent diagnosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the recurring theme.
The star chef was first alerted to the possibility he might have the condition 10 years ago during dinner with a child psychologist, the father of his son’s school friend. But it was only this year that he sat a test to see if he did have, as he puts it, “a busy head”.
“It was a standard ADHD form, multiple choice, 25, 30 questions,” he says. “I fill it in. And 20 was the crossover point, and I was 57.
So it’s extreme.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the flipping world. Because it’s the same thing that allows me to have two computers up, 20 pages open on each computer, cross-referencing, researching, and joining dots up that people don’t seem to see.”
His condition is a compelling explanation for how an otherwise unassuming grammar school kid went on to become one of the foremost influences in modern gastronomy.
He is the creator of snail porridge, meat fruit, and the multisensory dining sensation that is The Fat Duck, his three-Michelin star restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, and one-time world’s best restaurant (as voted by Britain’s Restaurant magazine. This year, the same publication awarded Blumenthal a lifetime achievement award).
He has redesigned the home-economics curriculum for the British education system, created astronaut food for the International Space Station and been inducted as a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
“Cooking is fantastic for ADHD because a professional kitchen gives you deadlines,” Heston says. “We need frameworks, restrictions, but up to a point. So the three things I do – cooking, kickboxing, and table tennis – they are the three things that really help that.” (His table tennis coach, Australian champion Simon Gerada, sits in on our interview, ready to test Heston’s mettle afterwards.)
When the conversation finally veers towards MasterChef, Heston mentions a road trip to Swan Hill that became “one of the most memorable car journeys I’ve had”.
He and his driver Nick broke the journey at Bridgewater, north of Bendigo, famous for its bakery, and he found himself with unexpected company.
“We got a pie. Sat down outside. Brown paper bag. Those double thingy containers of ketchup that you bend and they split open. A woman came up and … she said, ‘do you mind if I sit down?’.
“She said it as she was pulling up a chair. And for some bizarre reason, it just felt right. It felt comfortable. She started talking to me about how you deal with being famous. And then said, ‘well, I was famous a bit myself’. In the end I said, ‘so why are you asking these questions? What happened to you?’.”
The woman was Mary Howell, who at 23 caused a bit of controversy when she married 61-year-old potato farmer Cliff Young after he ran – and won – the Sydney to Melbourne ultramarathon.
“It was, I mean, a fantastic, like, I-wouldn’t-have-missed-it-for-the-world conversation,” Heston says.
Apparently Bridgewater is a hotbed of Heston fans. After having his photo taken with bakery staff, Heston was accosted by a man in a cowboy hat, smoking a rollie.
“Imagine the Marlboro man, but really wizened. And he just went, ‘Hes-ton Blu-men-thal’. Like, in the middle of nowhere. He knew the dishes … And, as I was going to the loo, he said, ‘how’s that Georgie (Calombaris)?’. So I said, ‘he’s good actually. He’s sleeping at the moment in the glovebox of the car’.”
This year’s MasterChef is more conceptual than previous seasons. The challenges revolve around the elements – air, fire, water, earth – and dishes that connect the judges to the environment, Heston says. It sounds like it was a great success.
“Matt [Preston] and I stood at the Murray River, looking at the trees and the roots going into the banks of the river and hearing all the noises – the birds in the eucalyptus trees, the leaves blowing in the wind – and we just had a moment.
“There was a dish (Heston describes it as a ‘cheesecakey roll’ coated in leaves of dried root vegetables), and we ate it, and we didn’t even think about whether it needed more or less salt or whether the acidity levels were, you know, was it moist or dry?
“It transcended all that. I was completely and utterly connected with that moment that I won’t ever have again. Moments like that, several actually, in the past week … I’ve not had a more memorable dish in any restaurant ever in the world.”
- WATCH – See Heston on MasterChef from June 18-22, as he takes contestants on a tour through regional Victoria.