This book accompanies the second series that Heston Blumenthal did for the BBC in 2007 (prior to his move to Channel 4). A book of the first series "In Search of Perfection" is also available.
The appearance of the book is that it is of very high quality. It is hardback and just over 300 pages long. The paper is glossy and the spine strong so easy to read from.
Now onto the recipes - essentially, and as you might expect from Blumenthal, this is not a conventional cookbook. It contains just 8 recipes - hamburger, fish pie, chicken tikka masala, risotto, peking duck, chilli con carne, baked alaska and trifle. You see the principle of the book is that it contains means and methods of creating the absolute pinnacle of the dishes - ie reaching the titular 'perfection.'
At the beginning there is a short introduction and a few pages of conversion tables. Then onto the recipes - each of which take place over about 40 pages. As a rule each section begins with the history of the dish detailing historical and cultural relevance that the dish may have. The next section is called "the quest for the best" where Heston visits a producer or supplier that he feels helps to contribute to the epitome of the dish that can be bought. He goes all over the world to achieve this - the US for hamburger, Norway for fish pie - describing their backgrounds and for those who source their ingredients the circumstances that they work within. He interviews them, grabbing some very passionate and entertaining quotes from people who are obviously perfectionists themselves and driven by the desire to share the best food possible.
Then onto the actual recipe. Be warned, these are not for the faint of heart. The ingredients themselves can look like they would be more at home in a laboratory eg - sodium citrate, chlorinated flour..... The list itself is also eyewatering in the number of ingredients required - I counted 88 that are needed for the chilli con carne alone!!!!!!!!!!! (This includes 10 different types of chilli, and each part of the recipe is broken down so that each part of the meal is prepared separately and intricately.)
The methodology is also not to be sniffed at, being immensely complicated and in a lot of places involving great swathes of time!
Also, what other recipe book would require you to have equipment such as a digital probe, dry ice, a hamster cage and an atomiser!
There is great photography throughout but a lot of it is quite clinical in that is features a lot of scientists and scary looking scientific implements which Blumenthal uses to assist him.
Towards the back there are short sections on food safety, equipment, directories of where to get produce (because most Tescos just don't sell dry ice funnily enough!). Actually there are some surprisingly good contacts - some which are international but ones such as The Spice Shop in London which has a fantastic website which I would highly recommend as a comprehensive emporium for spices (which are useful for all manner of recipes.). There is also a bibliography and some acknowledgments.
The index is different to the norm in that the sheer lack of recipes mean that it details methods, companies, individuals and ingredients alphabetically.
I hope from this review, you can see this is more of a curl up on the sofa read than something that you would actually cook from. It really is very interesting and encouraging to read something so passionate. Heston Blumenthal gives it a nice tone, he is enthusiastic but it just leaves you with a feeling that life is just too short for all of this. There is some interesting information about ingredients etc but for the most part this is just a different approach to food passion and a companion piece rather an essential addition to a cookbook collection.