Supersized recipes you'd never cook at home? Curiouser and curiouser
TELEVISION:‘Heston’s Fantastical Food’ is straight out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’: deliciously daft and infectious
That’s more like it: a series about cooking where they don’t bother with the lie that you’ll try any of it at home or rush out and buy the astonishingly expensive cookbook based on the series. So you can watch Heston’s Fantastical Food (Channel 4, Tuesday), marvel at Blumenthal’s ingenuity, and admire the sheer pointlessness of it all in a way you somehow feel reluctant to whenever you’re being sucked into whatever photogenic guff Jamie Oliver or Nigella is dishing up.
Blumenthal’s big idea in this series is to take some food or other and put it though an Alice in Wonderland filter – or, as he says, “to remind us how magical food is”. So over the past few weeks he has created enormous versions of ordinary food – the bigger the better. And you can put away your Freudian theories: this is too much fun for that.
The alchemist made a fried egg the size of a paddling pool, a pork scratching that could feed an entire pub, and weird Willy Wonka stuff, such as chicken-flavoured bubble gum and an enormous packet of Hula Hoops.
This week it was lunchbox favourites: crisps as big as dinner plates and the biggest KitKat in the world. Entirely pointless – which is the point.
Blumenthal’s glee at being allowed to do such daft things is infectious. The final episode is next week’s Christmas-themed programme – a pudding the size of a Fiat 500, that sort of thing – but you can safely watch it without feeling the remotest urge to cook any of it.
Foundation-of-the-State documentaries aren’t just for Easter, but still there was something oddly random about the screening of A Lost Son (RTÉ One, Monday). As its credits rolled, a voiceover told us that at the same time next week we would be watching a primary-school stage their Nativity play, so there was a slight sense that A Lost Son was one of those historical documentaries that, once commissioned, were without an obvious home until the awkward pre-Frontline slot became available.
It was watchable, though, because its presenter (and the driving force behind it), the former PD tánaiste Michael McDowell, had a good story to tell. Also, he’s a clear, convincing communicator, even if the sight of him in his anorak traipsing up Benbulbin is a little jarring, like seeing your teacher in the supermarket.
His grandfather Eoin MacNeill was one of the founding fathers of the Irish Free State, and at the time of the Civil War two of MacNeill’s sons were serving in the army. A third son, Brian, a medical student, had split from the family ideologically and was a significant figure in the republican movement in Sligo.
Brothers fighting against brothers in the Civil War wasn’t unique to the MacNeill family, as McDowell pointed out, but his purpose was to publicly prove that Brian had been shot by the Free State army while hiding in the mountains in Sligo and, crucially, while he was trying to surrender.
This point was no doubt fascinating to him and important for his family, but it was impossible to prove, as there were no eyewitness reports – although McDowell seemed satisfied with the veracity of other contemporaneous reports.
Anyone could have told that story, though (and we’re not short of Civil War documentaries), but what McDowell had was the family history, a direct line to the past. Snippets of the MacNeill family life made the first half of the documentary riveting, and more of that would have made this film stand out from the others. It would also have brought Brian and his brothers to life; they remained ghostly figures throughout, no match for McDowell’s presence.