Seymourpowell and Heston Blumenthal have created a breathtaking mechanical sweet shop for Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire. A stunning combination of British craft and cabinetmaking with cutting edge digital technology and innovation, the sweet shop is a spectacular showpiece to present and serve the final course of the meal, an array of petit fours Heston has named 'Like a kid in a sweet shop.'
"The amazing thing about Heston's cuisine is that all the dishes have a thrilling sense of theatre, magic and illusion about them," commented Ade Caroen, chief creative at Seymourpowell. "Things are never quite what they seem. Working with Heston, our challenge was to bring his extraordinary vision to life in the physical environment by creating a centrepiece that would add to the wonder of the culinary experience and allow the magic of the final course to unfold."
In close collaboration with Heston and his confectionery chefs, Seymourpowell designed and made an exquisitely detailed scale model of a Victorian sweet shop packed with innovative digital technology that stuns and surprises The Fat Duck diners by seemingly coming to life and serving them each a personalised petit four.
"The sweet shop is presented set atop an ornate, hand-carved wooden trolley with a set of mysterious cogs and mechanics reminiscent of a Professor Branestawm invention from Heston's favourite children's books by Norman Hunter," continued Ade Caroen. "Through the sweet shop's delicate windows you can see candlelight flickering within, people walking past and miniature sweet shop jars, while puffs of smoke billow from the chimney. The aim was for the sheer craftsmanship and attention to detail to be a breathtaking spectacle, and that's before the real magic has even begun."
Then serving staff gently turn a brass handle on the side of the trolley, causing the cogs, pulleys and mechanics to whir into life. The sweet shop begins majestically revolving and opening up to reveal its interior of 48 miniature drawers and two richly detailed interior scenes housed in the attics: a stunning sweet shop laboratory on one side and a model of Heston's childhood bedroom on the other.
Each diner is then invited to insert a coin they'd received as part of an earlier course, triggering the sweet shop to burst into life once again. The 48 drawers begin to 'magically' open and close of their own accord, as if the sweet shop has a life of its own, before finally coming to rest with one drawer left open for the diner. Each diner is then presented with the contents of the drawer in a sweet scoop: a bespoke piece of confectionery customised to the individual's tastes that surprises, delights and mystifies diners.
"To ensure the sweet shop was the finest quality, we collaborated with the cabinetmaker Mark Heeler, who even had to make new tools specifically to make the sweet shop to the bespoke design," Caroen added. "Everything has been made as if it's real. The floorboards and rafters are hand-carved from oak and are perfectly to scale. The windows are made from special glass used for microscopic slides. The window frames are hand-crafted from solid ebony and each roof tile has been made individually and deliberately burnt on its edges for authenticity."
On the technology side, each drawer has its own mechanism using motors and magnets to move individually. A computer drives algorithms that can create randomised or programmed sequences of draw openings and closings. A special reader contained within the sweet shop scans the coin when it's inserted so it knows which drawer to leave open for the diner.
"The beauty of the sweet shop is how high end technology combines with exquisite cabinetmaking and craftsmanship to create a truly unique dining experience," Caroen explained. "The array of cutting edge digital technology used runs quietly in the background, driving a seamless, analogue experience, and allowing Heston's vision and imagination to truly shine."