Heston Blumenthal on evolution, perception and the meaning of life

I have a whole hour to interview Heston Blumenthal and I don't need to ask him a single question. He talks, and talks, and talks.

We're supposed to be discussing the lifetime achievement award he received at the recent World's 50 Best ceremony in Melbourne, but he has little time for such an accolade. There are more pressing issues on his mind, like the evolution of the species.

Soon, he says, humans will have no need for a gut to digest food, Artificial Intelligence is moving in fast.

"Everything comes in waves, it's all energy. Light waves, sound waves, a raindrop hits the surface of the water, an amoeba," Heston mimes sucking in air, lungs billowing, hyperventilating.

"Convex, concave, a wave breaks off a sea cucumber, it develops a vertebrae, interior nervous system, brain develops on top. Natural selection! Millions of years, millions of things that happen, and it just so happened that we ended up here … Only the strong survive."

Phew. He may sound like the quintessential nutty professor, but Heston knows all about survival. Many have tried to emulate his success, or rip off his groundbreaking molecular dishes. He's now a powerhouse brand fronting everything from three hatted restaurants to supermarket snags to luxury barbecues to special guest slots on MasterChef (this week is 'Heston Week').

And still, Heston seems perturbed. Something is niggling at him as he sits, jetlagged, drinking Earl Grey tea in the chi-chi Crystal Club at Melbourne's Crown Casino, just a few metres from his Australian outpost Dinner By Heston Blumenthal.

Over the stereo, Kim Wilde sings Just Keep Me Hangin On. "Listen," he says, pointing to the ceiling. "You can hear a tambourine. That's just changed your reality."

Perception and reality

He suddenly remembers a video he's seen on YouTube about perception and reality, and scrambles to cue it up on his smartphone. "Watch this, now," he orders, and I sit through the three minute clip that's been viewed 2.8 million times.

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A lo-fi magician performs a simple card trick, but the real trick is that everything else on screen is rapidly changing colour, a fact that most people only realise on the second viewing. Heston watches on like a schoolboy who knows the punchline to a joke.

"You can't believe what's changed! I didn't see it," he marvels. "It's crazy isn't it? No one has ever noticed it. We filter things out … it's evolution. The more efficient we become, the more information comes in, and the more we filter out the stuff we don't need."

The conversation charges on, illuminating and confusing, insightful and rambling. He shares an idea for an alternative food guide that ignores the usual fine dining hotspots for a tailored experience. "Like say you go to Melbourne, you've got two hours, you've got a baby, you don't want tablecloths … you put those in, and it filters down, and it gives you the must have things."

Genius. Off the top of his head, he says he wants to open a new restaurant, maybe a pop-up, staffed entirely by robots. There's an idea.

Going cold turkey

Then he brings up which discussed his views on heroin addiction. He wasn't entirely happy with the way the story was reported, but launches into a very similar discussion.

"I've had pure heroin, I've had a hip replacement," he says. "Morphine is pure heroin, unadulterated pure heroin. Millions of people each week around the world have it in hospitals. But you don't walk out of hospital and think you need another hit."

The connection this topic has to him, his restaurants, television appearances, or new products, is unclear, but he is a compelling orator. I'm on the edge of the velvet couch, hanging on every word.

"The reason why [going] cold turkey is so horrendous is that it's like being plucked away from the ideal mum, just pulled away from your mum, at the time when you absolutely need her the most … it's like the colour changing card trick. It's not a trick! Our reality is whatever we are aware of at that time."

The reality of spending time with Heston is that he's as addictive and unpredictable as the drugs he describes. "Everything that's happened in my life, and the way I've responded to it, has got me to this moment," he says. "I'm owning it. I'm not lucky. I'm owning the emotion … so I've got this life."

Age of attention

It's interesting that age 50, Heston was only recently diagnosed with ADHD.

"I only found out about my ADHD a few months ago, but I wouldn't change me for the world, I love me," he says without arrogance. "I don't think I'm better than anyone else, but I love me … I wouldn't change me for the world."

The hour is up, and my head is spinning. I look at my list of prepared questions, all unasked, and unanswered. "Favourite meal of all time?" reads one. "Favourite thing to pack on tour?" reads another. They seem irrelevant now.

"Most of my life I was always going to be the strongest person, who worked harder than anyone," Heston says. "In the restaurant it was always 'better, better, better', but then when I got there, it was never enough. Because where do I go now?"