On a mission to improve the standard of food in British institutions who either can’t or won’t accept that their current produce is nothing but slop, Heston Blumenthal focused his trademark Bugatti glasses upon Cineworld last night, with the aim of spicing up a rather tried, tested and very overpriced formula of popcorn, nachos and hotdogs.
The chef kicked-off the episode by visiting the London film museum to gain inspiration from the likes of Batman and Superman, which is quite apt because if Cineworld founder Steve Wiener’s attitude is anything to go by, boy will he need some superhuman strength! The aim of the game with cinema food is profit, and plenty of it – with the bag costing more than the popcorn, you just knew Heston was in for a rough ride.
But the chef has an important point that we’ve largely forgotten – why is today’s cinema food not as exciting as today’s films? Why have we become accustomed to paying over the odds for shoddy, tasteless, cardboard – like popcorn and hotdogs that bounce when dropped on the floor? Not forgetting the fact that one large popcorn bag doubles your blood sugar level and provides you with a days calorie intake.
With a penny-pinching cinema boss and sceptical till staff to please, a determined and very optimistic Heston gets stuck in at the laboratory (aka his restaurant in Bray). His aim is to revive cinema (whether or not he is correct in his belief that it needs saving is another matter..) so he sets about trying to create an incredible 4D cinema experience with added smells and tastes. Personally, and I don’t know about you, but a ‘sperm spray’ during an orgy and fish essence patty served during a slaughterhouse scene weren’t for me, no matter how much of a delicacy, and the Cineworld bosses were equally unimpressed. I’m also taking a wild guess that completely soaking the cinema with essence and giving people food at different times during a film is slightly more expensive than a bag of popcorn. Remembering that we are just coming out of a recession, Heston returns to square one.
His next attempt at cinema revolution sees him creating an amazing new product by taking a classic and giving it a twist. Flavoured popcorn you cry? No, Heston is more convinced by the delicious sounding popcorn ice cream with accompanying milkshake and vanilla straw. The product doesn’t even sell once until Heston loses the plot and bans popcorn, in the absence of said cinema staple anarchy reins and Blumenthal is forced back to the drawing board, while cinema manager Matt retires to the local pub to wax lyrical about the product that seems to be supporting the whole industry (a large popcorn costs Cineworld less than a penny and sells for nearly a fiver..)
Deflated and filled with frustration, Heston has one last shot. He decides to return to the cinemas of old by creating a carnival atmosphere in the foyer, his hope being that this will convince the public to shy away from the normal cinema snacks. Admittedly, the nitrous oxide ice cream machine is perhaps a little too complicated for till staff used to serving up coke and nachos, and eight types of popcorn is a little extreme, but hotdogs with built-in ketchup and mustard become a roaring success.
Could any of Heston’s ideas though work in Cineworld’s outlets full time? Personally, I’m unconvinced. With the public still willing to pay over the odds for traditional cinema crap that provides massive margin, I’m going to have to say that this is one mission that is perhaps impossible, even for Heston Blumenthal. Could Jamie Oliver have a crack a Pukka popcorn? Or maybe just bring in hidden snacks from Tesco like the sensible ones amongst us…