Heston’s Mission Impossible

ALASDAIR PAL: “To call Mission Impossible food porn would be an insult to porn”.

Alasdair Pal Heston Heston Blumenthal Heston's Mission Impossible iWatched


British food has a sinister new enemy. It’s popcorn, and Heston Blumenthal, the living Easter Island statue, absolutely hates the stuff.

“Dull, tasteless and overpriced”, is the great man’s verdict in this week’s Heston’s Mission Impossible (4od), set in High Wycombe Cineworld.

Heston has set himself a challenge: to rejuvenate the food in our Great British institutions. The trouble is that it’s quite difficult, so he ends up saying things like: “it looks like mission impossible”, “this week could be mission impossible”, and “this really is mission impossible”. At least, at the cinema, it isn’t a totally arbitrary catchphrase.

The big bald wizard, if you didn’t already know, made his name knocking up bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge. So how on earth is good food ever going to work in a cinema?

“It’s a huge challenge”, admits founder Steve Weiner, having his own Ratner moment.

The trick, Heston tells us, is to recapture the essence of cinema, when he spent his Saturday mornings as a kid, watching whatever kids watched in the seventies. This sounds awfully familiar to In Search of Perfection, where he regaled us with tales of Friday evenings in his local takeaway, and ended up making fish and chips with a Sodastream and a litre of vodka. But that’s another story.

Along with assistants Stefan and Jocky (Scottish, since you ask), Heston scouts out the competition. During the film, Jocky pronounces his tray of nachos “fucking disgusting”, and they all have a good laugh.

Then it’s back to the lab to find out why people enjoy popcorn so much. After blowtorching a few kernals, immersing them in liquid nitrogen, and then pricking them with a needle, they decide it’s because popcorn, it turns out, is sweet and crunchy.

Clearly, the solution must be a radical one. And that solution, according to Blumenthal, is an “edible sperm shake”, served during the final orgy scene in Perfume. To call Mission Impossible food porn would be an insult to porn: it doesn’t go well.

“We need to beat popcorn at its own game”, he muses. This means popcorn ice cream, popcorn milkshake – and popcorn, obviously, in eight different flavours.

He premieres his creations at one of the chain’s central London cinemas, people smile, and the whole thing is painted as a success. But the clientele for opening night – cords, jackets, clipped vowels – aren’t exactly Cineworld’s core customers. They’re the sort of people who pay £160 for Blumenthal’s taster menu at the Fat Duck. To get anyone in High Wycombe to buy it, he had to board up the popcorn machine.

And that’s the problem with this whole enterprise – Jamie Oliver it ain’t. School dinners needed improvement, and Oliver was the passionate campaigner they needed. But Heston isn’t really sorting anything other than his own ego: people buy junk at the cinema because it’s a treat, and they like it.

It is, admittedly, interesting that popcorn costs less than the paper bag it is served in. But doesn’t he realise most people just smuggle in Skittles down the front of their trousers anyway?