Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I work on very complicated things. See here, here, and here.

But I am a very simple person. See here, here and here.

That's all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Customer Service Division

A true incident. It's been told before, but not on this site.

I bought my first car as a student and somehow kept it going for about eight years until the old banger finally died in a blaze of glory (but that's another story). Anyway, I decided that my next car would be better. So on the recommendation of work colleagues, I went to the local dealer and bought a new one. Well it was not 100% new, but it was only a few months old, I was only the second registered owner, the first was someone at the manufacturer. However, just like a new car at the time, it came directly from the dealer with a fully comprehensive one year warranty.

And so, every 10,000 miles, I religiously got the car serviced at the same main dealer that had sold me the car. The servicing was expensive compared to my local garage, but I wanted the best option for my first new car. No initial concerns. However, driving the car out of the garage after the 30,000 mile service, after barely 28 months of ownership, there was clearly a major problem - running was uneven with a distinct lack of power. I drove back. And there, after a while waiting to be seen, a mechanic changed one of the spark plugs. In the car park!

The car was now drivable, though certainly not ideal, and I brought it back for the next service early, as soon as it hit 39,000 miles. The same dealer serviced it, detected no problem. I got the next service done at the same place, again trusting the selling dealer. Yet pretty soon after that, the engine lost all power again. The dealership had the cheek to charge me a fortune to "diagnose" the problem, and they promptly informed me that one of the cylinders was showing almost zero compression. Only solution, an entirely new engine.

Of course I wasn't happy. But despite all sorts of calls and incidents raised, both to the dealer and the manufacturer, I received not a penny in compensation. Refusing to continue to support that dealer, I eventually bought and fitted a new engine from a local garage. Ironically, I had plenty of contacts in the marketing department of the manufacturer - but all I got were offers of help and zero actual help. The line from the dealer was that I should contact the manufacturer. The line from the manufacturer was that the new car only had a one year warranty, so tough. Technically true. But if that was good customer service, if that was encouraging loyalty and positive recommendation, then …

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mad Heston's Tea Party

For his Victorian Feast, it would have been easy (and boring) to simply cook the type of food that was actually eaten in those times, so instead chef Heston Blumenthal decided to recreate the experience of the mad hatter's tea party from Alice in Wonderland. It was on TV yesterday, and I'm still astounded.

For his soup, he did actually catch a wild snapper one-handed, but eventually decided that real turtle meat was too stringy. So instead he just made soup from stock. In order to make his stock, after extracting the juice from his mock turtle, he froze it, filtered it, froze it again (at -80 degrees) , whizzed it around in a centrifuge, froze it yet again, set it in specially-made watch-fob-shaped moulds, then individually covered each one in gold leaf.

That was the simple soup starter. His main course seemed to be a complete Victorian garden, with everything from the "soil" to the borders to the plants to the "rocks" to the decorative insects having been carefully placed there as part of the whole culinary experience.

To drink - a single beverage that would have the flavours of toffee, hot buttered toast, custard, cherry tart and turkey. But that description was from a book of fiction, a fantasy story created by Lewis Carroll as an exercise in lunacy. It was not a recipe, and obviously it was not meant to be taken seriously ... except by Heston. He really created it. A single drink, together with a custom drinking vessel, that sequentially offered each of the flavours described in the book. His guests were gobsmacked.

And for desert, a giant vibrating jelly made of absinthe, mindblowing.

Heston Blumenthal already runs what is arguably the best restaurant in the world. He takes your senses to the limit, and then that little bit further. He is polite and courteous in his demeanor, yet outrageous and over the top in his creation. He takes the fictional cliché and makes it real. So the punchline: he is the Jim Steinman of food.