Heston Blumenthal: 'I have ADHD. But I wouldn't change it for the world'

The celebrity chef talks to TES about creativity, his ADHD diagnosis, school dinners and how all children should be taught about food

Adi Bloom

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Heston Blumenthal was recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Quite severely,” the celebrity chef tells TES. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have a very busy head.

“When people say you have ADHD, they think you’re throwing things around. But it’s not: it’s that one thought comes in and knocks another one out temporarily. When I’m working, it’s fantastic: I can have 20 webpages open, with two projects, and keep joining the dots and making connections.

“But I accept that, possibly, possibly, it makes me a little difficult to live with. You go upstairs and come down with something you were looking for six months ago. But you forgot what you were looking for in the first place.”

Blumenthal, proprietor of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Berkshire, is best known for his experimentations with molecular gastronomy, combining chemistry and cookery. 

In January, he will be delivering the keynote address at the annual education-technology Bett Show. He will be speaking about creativity, and its importance in education.

'Turning us into computers'

“Kids with ADHD tend to be put in the special-needs category, and they’re stigmatised,” Blumenthal says.

“That’s because the schooling system was created in the Victorian time – the Victorians measured the crap out of everything. Females, women, girls...there was an accepted measurement between the bottom of the skirt and the top of their shoes. They were turning us into computers.”

From here, he launches into a digression that takes in the nature of perfection, a sand-dune-climbing beetle on the BBC nature documentary Planet Earth, the fact that it is not possible to measure the best pizza in the world, and the question of whether human beings are predisposed to live in groups or alone.

“We don’t need to learn to be creative,” the chef says. “We need to learn to remove the straitjacket of fear. Of fear of failure. And then creativity happens.

“The most important thing that anyone could do is just be aware of your emotions, and then they become feelings.”

In the interview, there is not enough time to question what this means before Blumenthal moves on to discuss his own school years: “I had a great time at school. I really enjoyed my school years. I was never hyperactive or difficult. A classic report comment of mine was, ‘Could try harder. Is not working to his potential’.”

'The thing that keeps us human'

And then he’s off again, this time talking about his youthful interest in kick-boxing, his personally commissioned coat of arms and the theory of relativity. Every so often, he touches on something education-related, before careering off again.

Finally, however, Blumenthal settles on the importance of teaching food and cookery in schools. “Food is the only subject that can cover all the other subjects,” he says. “Physics, chemistry, biology, history – the only one that combines these things is food.”

He elaborates. Cutting, chopping, blending and cooking food are all physics: it is the transfer of energy through the ingredients. The process of eating and digesting food is biology. The evolution of humanity around food is history. And chemistry can be studied through the way that foods change their physical structure during the cooking process.

“There’s no other subject that can do this,” Blumenthal stresses. “That’s the ridiculousness: it’s optional at GCSE, and has been dropped from A level. And food is the only thing that keeps us human.

“One hundred per cent, if I die trying, I want to see food compulsory throughout school.”

Necessary evil

He believes that this change in attitude could have consequences beyond the classroom. It would, for example, eliminate the need for any celebrity-chef campaigns for healthier school meals.

“We view food as a necessary evil, lots of us,” Blumenthal says. “If it wasn’t considered a necessary evil, school dinners wouldn’t have gone down the route they have: ‘Got to get the kids fed’. Then: ‘Don’t eat this; don’t eat that’.

“If we were teaching cooking and nutrition, imagine what would happen to school dinners. We’d communicate more. Schools, and the companies that provide school dinners, would all start talking, and all start interacting. That shared belief: food, and how we arrived here, and how it makes us human, and all the positive things that come from that.

“Imagine that. For me, that’s job done. But it won’t happen as long as food is an optional subject.”

He stops briefly for breath, before realising the time. “I’ve got to run,” he says, and then he has moved on to the next project.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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