Heston Blumenthal – master chef and master marketer

First published in New Zealand Herald  9 September 2015 

Last week, my husband and I finally made it off the waiting list and into Attica, one of Australia’s best restaurants and run by New Zealand chef Ben Shewry.

For eight months, we’d been waiting for the famous Tuesday night table, as that’s the night Shewry and his team experiment with new recipes, and diners are the guinea pigs to these concoctions.

On our Tuesday, we had some delights (including the house-made bread, which was incredible) and some disasters (an asparagus dish that looked – and kind of tasted – a little like cat sick). But that’s the risk you take on a Tuesday, as Attica refines recipes, moving the best ones to the weekly menu and discarding the duds.

Melbourne has a solid reputation in Australia as the foodie city and like Auckland, is quite snobby about its food credentials compared to the rest of the country.

So it was a major coup that Heston Blumenthal chose to relocate Fat Duck to Melbourne when his cultish English restaurant underwent a redesign.

In a sea of “celebrity” chefs, Blumenthal is a master of marketing.

Several years ago when Heston’s Feasts first screened on Australian TV, I thought surely there’s no more room for another big personality chef. I was content with my affable and uncomplicated Jamie, however, as my English husband pointed out to me at the time, Blumenthal stands alone. Fat Duck has a repute that’s bordering on mystical.

Fat Duck Melbourne launched with Willy Wonka style, creating a frenzy that saw over 300,000 people apply for the privilege of paying $525 (excluding wine) to dine during its 6-month Australian tenure. Nearly 15,000 managed to experience the mind-blowing cuisine that Blumenthal is known for, and now the restaurant has closed and is returning to the UK.

The genius of Blumenthal’s marketing takes a leaf straight out of the luxury brand recipe book.

First of all you need a product that’s actually desirable and well made. There’s no bluffing that bit. You may fool the people once, perhaps even twice, but they don’t say “three strikes and you’re out” for nothing.

Next, you create more demand by limiting the supply. Whether it’s an Hermes bag, a Ferrari or entry to your restaurant with an ever-changing theme and menu, the result is the same. Limited Edition equals waiting times, equals buzz, equals higher price, equals greater perceived (and in some instances, retained) value.

Finally, you have a founder that’s a unique personality with a great story who personifies the brand. Blumenthal’s food is like a jaw-dropping, edible science project. His dining experience totally immersive, with no detail overlooked. If there are candles on the table, chances are you can eat them. Blumenthal himself wears the mad professor look like a uniform and when you picture him it’s usually with big glasses, surrounded by test tubes and Bunsen burners.

Now that his Australian project is over, Blumenthal returns to the UK with an even bigger following on this side of the Tasman. So much so that he plans to open a permanent restaurant, Dinner by Heston.

He also returns to a hungry English market with his fresh concept, a totally new menu and a reminder of why he’s just so good at running such a highly desirable brand.

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