Host: I’m talking to chef Heston Blumenthal. Now, Heston, most of us think that the business of eating is pretty simple, don’t we? We eat things and we like the taste of them or we don’t, but you reckon it’s more complicated than that, don’t you?
Heston: Yes, eating is a process that involves all the senses. Any notion that food is simply about taste is misguided. Try eating a beautifully cooked piece of fish off a paper plate with a plastic knife and fork – it is not the same. 
Host: So how does taste operate then?
Heston: The sense of taste can be broken down into five basic categories, all of which happen in the mouth and nowhere else. These categories are: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – the most recently identified taste. There is a current theory that fat is a taste but this has yet to be proved. We have up to 10,000 taste buds on the tongue and in the mouth. These regenerate, so the receptors we use today will not be the same as were used a couple of days ago. When we eat, taste buds on our tongue pick up taste but not flavour. The molecules in food that provide flavour pass up into the olfactory bulb situated between the eyes at the front of the brain. It contains hundreds of receptors that register molecules contained in everything that we eat and smell. This is where the flavour of the food is registered. 
Host: OK, so our sense of smell is connected with flavour rather than taste? Is that what you’re saying?
Heston: That’s right. Smell and taste are registered in different parts of the head. There is a simple but effective and enjoyable way of demonstrating this. Have ready some table salt and biscuits, fruits or anything easy to eat. Squeeze your nostrils tightly enough to prevent breathing through them, but not so tight as to hurt. Take a good bite of biscuit or fruit and start chomping, making sure the nostrils remain clenched. You’ll notice that it is impossible to perceive the flavour or smell of the food being eaten. Now, with nostrils still squeezed and food still in the mouth, lick some salt. Although it was impossible to detect the flavour of the food that was being eaten with clenched nostrils, the taste of the salt is unhindered. Finally, let go of your nostrils and notice the flavour of the food come rushing into your headspace. 
Host: I’ll definitely try that some time. So what you’re saying is that all the senses can affect your experience when you eat?
Heston: Yes, the brain has to process information given to it by other senses while we are eating, sometimes with surprising results. Here’s another example. A few years ago at a sommelier school in France, trainee wine waiters were put through a routine wine tasting. Unknown to them, a white wine that they had just tasted had been dyed red with a non-flavoured food dye, then brought back out to taste and evaluate. Something very interesting happened. They all made notes on the assumption that the wine was what it looked like – red. In this case, the eyes totally influenced taste perception. 
Host: OK, so it’s not just about taste, all the senses are coming into play in different ways.
Heston: Yes, and as well as allowing us to enjoy food, the senses act as warning systems, taste being the last of the sensory barriers, and bitterness the last of the taste barriers. A natural aversion to bitterness can prevent us from eating foods that could be harmful, although it appears that we have the ability to modify such basic likes and dislikes. For example, we generally grow to like bitter foods such as tea, coffee and beer as we grow older. 
Host: What got you interested in this business of the role played by various senses in the experience of eating? Was it just professional curiosity?
Heston: Well, I began thinking about this whole subject a couple of years ago when I noticed that more and more customers at my restaurant were commenting on the fact that the red cabbage with grain-mustard ice cream served as an appetiser just got better each time they ate it. This was the only dish on the menu whose recipe had not changed over the past year. It seemed that the barrier being presented with this dish was the vivid purple colour of the cabbage, a colour not normally associated with food.  To some diners, the initial difficulty of accepting this colour interfered with the appreciation of the dish, but as they got used to it, they lost their inhibition and simply enjoyed its flavour.
Host: I see. Now, of course the sense of smell must com e…
You have to admire his achievements, how quickly he’s come from nothing to being one of the most successful people in the country. As they say, the best ideas are the simple ones, and he came up with something that nobody had thought of before. And of course, as soon as he launched it, it took off. Now he’s got this enormous empire and he’s always on TV and in the papers . The strange thing for me, though, is that despite the fact that he must be able to run things very well, he comes across as being a bit thick . I know he can’t be, but when you hear him talk, he can hardly string a coherent sentence together.
Personally, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Nevertheless, lots of people obviously can, because they buy everything he produces in droves, the minute it comes out. There are even queues up the street, and when he does signings, enormous crowds gather.  I don’t see anything particularly original in any of it, but you have to hand it to him, he’s done very well. I think it’s been a case of being in the right place at the right time, rather than anything to do with quality.  There are lots of people producing better things than his, but he seems to have been very fortunate and hit on something that happens to be popular right now.
People laugh at him because he looks and sounds a bit funny but I think they’re missing the point. He’s someone who really has ideas and principles, he’s not just in it to feel good about himself. And he doesn’t talk all that terrible jargon, he gives a straight answer to a straight question. Not many of them do that. I get the impression that he means what he says, and that it’s not just to benefit his career.  I’d rather people like him were making decisions that affect all of us, not those ones who just say what they think people want to hear. 
People don’t like him at all, because they say he’s really dull and he hasn’t got any real personality. But you can’t expect people who do what he does to laugh and joke all the time, can you? It’s all about focus – he’s got it and that’s why he’s got so many trophies.  The more interesting ones don’t have the same level of consistency and aren’t always in form like he is. So people tend not to notice just how good he is, and instead of giving him the praise he deserves, they go on about his personality.  He’s one of the all-time greats but people seldom mention that.
I like what he does, and he seems to me to deal with some important issues in a way that most people don’t. You have to be able to explain things that are quite complicated in a way that everyone can understand and he has a knack for doing that. The way he does interviews, for example, is very good and he always gets a lot out of the people he’s talking to.  And he isn’t afraid to tackle things that people don’t talk about much, so you learn a lot from the things he produces. I wouldn’t want to argue with him, though, he’s quite vicious about some of the people he deals with. It must be quite intimidating to be faced by him.