Most people wouldn’t pay $2.8 million for a canned bacon sandwich, even if it was prepared by a three-star Michelin chef. There are a lot of folks who would eat it for free, though, particularly if they were trapped on the International Space Station.
Heston Blumenthal, chef proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, England, made the sandwich for British astronaut Major Tim Peake. It took two years to develop and cost “several million pounds,” according to The Daily Mirror. In addition to the world’s priciest sandwich, Blumenthal also designed a Thai red curry, beef stew with truffles, Alaskan salmon and apple crumble, all of which were sent to the space station prior to Peake’s arrival.
Dining in space wasn’t always quite so elegant. The earliest astronauts had to content themselves with tubes of pureed baby food. The menu had improved by the time of the Gemini missions, but that didn’t prevent Gus Grissom from sneaking a corned beef sandwich onto Gemini III. By the time Skylab was operational (1973-74), technology had improved to the point where astronauts could enjoy shrimp cocktail, Lobster Newburg, ice cream and butter cookies.
In the present day, the sky is literally the limit. Russian cosmonauts currently have a selection of 300 dishes on the International Space Station including borscht, jellied pike perch and goulash with buckwheat. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration agency has developed sushi and ramen for space consumption, and the Italians have partnered with Lavazza to create an espresso machine that also brews regular coffee, tea and hot chocolate. The galley is a modular unit on the Space Shuttle, containing an oven and a water dispenser for rehydrating dishes. Astronauts have the ability to customize their own menus.
All of which brings us back to Major Peake, happily chomping on his $2.8 million canned bacon sandwich. After much experimentation, Blumenthal finally settled on canning as the best method of preservation, although he was reportedly worried about the possibility of food poisoning (The Fat Duck has had some problems with contamination in recent years). If you’re a chef, though, there are worse situations than cooking for astronauts—if they’re unhappy with their meal, they can’t send it back.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com