Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from” said the Queen.
The V&A will immortalise Heston Blumenthal’s iconic Mock Turtle soup in the first-ever museum exhibit of his work, as part of the museum’s forthcoming Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition. Celebrating one of the most iconic, imaginative and inspiring stories of all time, the exhibition will explore the creative process behind one of Heston’s most iconic Alice in Wonderland inspired dishes, discovering how he conceived a science-defying methodology, inspired by the mantra of the books – to imagine the impossible.
The display will be situated in Reimagining Alice a section of the exhibition that will examine how artists experiment with perception and reinventions of Wonderland. Celebrating the weird and wonderful, it will feature an immersive life-sized Mad Hatter’s tea party, brought to life through psychedelic and playful digital projections.
A film revealing the extraordinary creative and scientific process behind the making of the Mock Turtle Soup will feature as part of this section of the exhibition, alongside an in-motion recreation of the dish in 3D. Heston’s Mock Turtle Soup, originally a popular Victorian-era dish, features a Mad Hatter-inspired Fob Watch – reduced through ice-filtration and concentrated stock, wrapped in gold fleck – which performatively dissolves in front of the dining guest.
Devised as a visual spectacle for Heston’s flagship restaurant, The Fat Duck, the accompanying exhibition video will show how – when inserted into a teapot, with hot water poured over – the fob-watch dissolves into a beautiful clear brown consommé with gold leaf. Served with a Mock Turtle egg, this unique dish comprises a turnip mousse with a swede puree, and little enochi mushrooms to signify the Caterpillar’s toadstool. It is served with a round of toast sandwiches to complete the tea party.
Heston Blumenthal, said: “The character of Alice makes logic out of surreal situations, turning things on their heads, which is my biggest source of creativity. Situations are only surreal because we make judgements on things based on what we’ve already been told – that’s why my motto is ‘question everything’, and why the Alice in Wonderland books have provided endless sources of inspiration for my work. Discovering the use of cold temperatures to reduce liquid for the Mock Turtle soup is a perfect example of Alice-inspired logic, so I’m delighted the stories behind it will go on show as part of the V&A’s Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition.”
Mock Turtle soup was invented during the Victorian era as a budget alternative to Turtle soup, a historic dish popular among aristocratic and royal circles, but banned in the mid-nineteenth century after turtles were almost hunted to extinction. The alternative recipe, using calf-meat became a national staple, earning a place within Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as ‘The Mock Turtle’, a creature with hind hooves and tail of a cow but with the body, shell and front flippers of a sea turtle. In Heston’s words, “I love this dish because you’re lifting something out of a fairy-tale but it’s also got a bit of recipe history in there.” Visitors to the exhibition will be able to listen to excerpts from the Mock Turtle’s story in the Staging Alice section.
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, opening 22 May 2021, will offer an immersive and fantastical journey down the rabbit hole, delving into the origins, adaptations and reinventions of Alice in Wonderland over 158 years, from manuscript to a global phenomenon beloved by all ages.
Through over 300 objects, across five Alice-inspired worlds arranged thematically – spanning film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography – the V&A will be the first museum to fully explore the cultural impact of Alice in Wonderland and its ongoing inspiration for leading creatives, from Salvador Dalí and Yayoi Kusama, to The Beatles, Vivienne Westwood and Little Simz.
Highlights include Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript, illustrations by John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Mary Blair for Walt Disney’s iconic 1951 film adaptation, to Royal Opera House stage costumes, fashion from Iris van Herpen and photography from Tim Walker.
Featuring theatrical sets, immersive environments, and a special experience in Virtual Reality brought to life by HTC Vive, Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser will take young and old alike on a journey through the enchanting and extraordinary world of Wonderland, through Alice’s eyes. Designed by award-winning designer Tom Piper – best known for his stage designs for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the V&A as well as his Tower of London poppies installation – the exhibition will reward ‘curiouser and curiouser’ visitors with secret spaces and playful displays and an invitation to join a mind-bending game of croquet in VR.
Since the publication of the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, the books have never been out of print and remain one of the most influential texts in the world. One of the most ambitious exhibitions ever staged by the V&A, Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser will provide a fun-filled and illuminating visit to Wonderland for visitors of all ages.
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser runs at the V&A from 22 May 2021 – 31 December 2021.
Photo credit: V&A Museum