Heston Blumenthal has been touring the UK for his latest TV programmes, taking part in increasingly ridiculous stunts in the chase for ratings, and ultimately more exposure for his brand, which now stretches to everything from airline grub to supermarket meals to hawking spectacles for Vision Express.
But the celebrity chef’s latest culinary trick of sucking on tampons seems a tad on the ludicrously trite side even by his own standards. Clearly revelling in his nerdy image, he comes across as a hot-breathed schoolboy who’s found his way into the women’s’ changing rooms, as he talks excitedly about how stuffing his mouth with a tampon to remove saliva helps improve the taste of food.
"If you drain the moisture in your mouth you experience richness, creaminess and sweetness more intensely," he told The Guardian. "If you have a spoonful of ice-cream then put a tampon on the tongue for a couple of minutes, when you eat the ice-cream again the taste will be richer."
He says he was put on to the idea in a Dutch food lab by oral physiologist Don Prince. Before long the pair were "playing around with different tampons".
Why he finds tampon munching a useful experiment is anyone’s guess because tampons won’t be featuring at any of his eateries he never cooks at. You won’t see diners at Dinner or the Fat Duck with pieces of string dangling from their mouths, like mouse-eating lizard people from V, iPod headphones clamped to their ears as they listen to the sound of toilets flushing.
Back at his lab above his prep room at the Fat Duck, he’s already been tinkering with yoghurt and tampons for an “interactive presentation”. He glosses over why he uses tampons rather than any other equally absorbent material, or one of those mini vacuum cleaners dentists use to suck saliva from your mouth. But then that’s because tampons are far more of a gimmick, and there wouldn’t be nearly as much publicity if he just used a wad of kitchen roll.
He’s been described as either one of the world’s most talented, innovative chefs or one of the biggest confidence tricksters of his generation - with some who have eaten the Fat Duck tasting menu left wondering whether the joke is really on the customer. But the way his gastronomic stunts have been going of late, he’s beginning to resemble one of those creepy TV magicians.
What will he do for his next trick? Starve himself for a month in a glass box, suspended over the Thames, to see how nice a doner kebab tastes at the end of it? As for the tampons, as an Aussie friend pointed out on Twitter: “How on earth is Waitrose going to market this one...” Heston from Waitrose tampon palate cleansers? What’s next a bin bag, and an amyl nitrate-filled hidden orange pudding in his mouth?