With their extraordinary quirkiness and creative ambition to try everything and anything Sam Bompas and Harry Parr joined forces in 2007 to set up Bompas & Parr. Generating a wide range of projects fuelled by their ultimate desire to design spectacular experiences, Bompas & Parr explore how the taste of food is altered by synaesthesia, performance and setting.
Named by The Independent as ‘one of the 15 people who will define the future of the arts in Britain’, this energetic duo works with a team of specialists to make fantasy ideas a reality. Bringing the 1970’s dessert staple jelly back to the mainstream with wacky designs and bold colours, Bompas and Parr celebrate the obscure in all its glory. From projects with Hendrick’s Gin and Selfridges to providing expertise for Heston Blumenthal’s series Feast, no day is the same for this pair and it would seem that the unique flavour of their work is satisfying many people’s palettes.
Who are Bompas & Parr and what kind of challenges do they undertake? We’re not exactly precious about labels and definitions. Over the last year we’ve exhibited at the Garage Centre of Contemporary Culture, built a Drive Thru beneath Selfridges for Mercedes featuring the installation The Four Horsemen of the Oesophagus and published a book on Feasting.
It can make for a confusing and furious life though. We’re quite competitive, which means all cooks, architects, designers, artists, photographers, art directors and curators are potential rivals. At the moment, it takes so long to explain the sorts of things we do that at parties I just say I’m an accountant.
Talk us through your team - architects to scientists. Bompas & Parr is a merry crew of assorted talents. There are seven of us full time: an architect, graphic designer, producer, studio manager, jelly queen and me and Harry. On any day we could be developing conjuring tricks, installing gallery exhibitions, working on vast architectural projects involving tonnes of molten chocolate or engineering food based theme park rides. Job descriptions are pretty limiting in this context.
How do you think space and setting effect the taste of food? Ask anyone the best place to eat in Moscow and they point you towards Café Pushkin. It’s a monumental, pseudo-historical restaurant over three floors inspired by pre-revolutionary style. You can choose to eat in their drugstore, library, greenhouse or even the ‘fireplace room’ entirely decked out in white and gold. The entire building is rigged with polished hard wood and full of ancient globes, brass telescopes, etchings and tiny models of combustion engines.
The experience is bewildering and overwhelming. So much so that the environment makes the food on your plate taste better than it otherwise would. This was the finding of one of my favourite academic papers, published in 2003 by Professor John Edwards.
Can you give us a piece of dinner party etiquette for hosting Bompas & Parr style? Our universal formula for feasting is largely based on ancient banqueting traditions. Here are some of the techniques we use in a bid to be hailed as the ultimate host.
1. Brew your own booze.This is an impressive and inexpensive trick and the equipment required creates a great alchemic lab feel. And (until you've got the hang of it at least) it will be like nothing your guests have ever tasted. Make sure everyone has enough. Most people would think twice about drinking anything that can fuel a car but when it comes to alcohol they make an exception.
2.Make sure you have a smoke machine handy.Why shouldn't your party employ the elements of a film set or rock band arena tour. Just be wary that sometimes neighbours call the fire brigade.
3. High impact canapés are a winner. My favourites are breaded coxcombs in DIY vol-au-vent. If you're serving something that everyone has eaten before then you're spoiling their appetite without impressing them.
4. Cook a pig's head and trotters. It's a centrepiece you can snack on and you get a lot of bang for your buck. In the past we've used the cooked trotters as cigarette holders. The possibilities are endless.
5. Have some over-proof spirits around for setting stuff on fire. As mentioned before, alcohol is an excellent fuel. It's volatile and flammable but burns at a relatively low temperature so isn't as dangerous as some of the more noxious chemicals we regularly use.
6. Hollow out bits of fruit like pineapples, melons and pumpkins. Freeze them to use as a massive glasses at the party. Tropical!
7. Make it seem like the room is full of people. The best feasts have a bustling tavern atmosphere. If you're worried about not having enough guests move all your furniture into your designated feasting room. It'll feel packed and can double as a fun assault course for your guests.
8. Turn down the lights. Bright lighting makes people feel like they have to behave and that's not what you want.
9. If you want guests to dance the music has to be loud enough . People will only dance if the music is over 85 decibels.
10. Take advantage of the sexiness of cigarettes and tobacco products. They may contribute to cancer but everyone likes a bit of danger at the end of the meal. After all, the occasional fag isn't as bad as an unwanted pregnancy. We make flower arrangements out of cigarettes and cigars that are brought to the table with the coffees for a pumping finale.
You seem to enjoy exploding food. Favourite explosion so far? It's still jelly. There's something magnificent about watching the wobble in super slow motion as the charges detonate from within. Here's a little more about our most jelly explosions service for weddings. It's actually proved surprisingly popular. It turns out that people aren't that interested in eating their wedding cakes. They just like the ritual and the spectacle.
You were named by The Independent as 'one of the 15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain'. What does the future hold for Bompas & Parr? Publishing five books before thirty, winning a Turner prize for food art and whole-cow cookery. We are also exploring cloud bursting with lasers, and opening a global hotel chain.
Can you recommend any particularly exotic cocktails?Certainly. Try our Tentacle Martini. This is the best and worst of cocktails. Beware that in common with all Martinis, it’s best suited to alcoholics. A real swashbuckler.It came about when we only had gin, green chartreuse and a few octopuses in the fridge. Working with what you’ve got is one of the great joys of cocktailing. Every so often you stumble on a winner that delights your palate a lot more than you think it should. Sam remembered hearing about Toulouse Lautrec, the inbred dwarf and artist, hosting a wild party where he served guests 2000 cocktails including one of gin flamed with port with a sardine in it. It’s pretty weird but the sardine does the job of the olive in the Martini or the onion in the Gibson, the port adding sweetness a bit like vermouth. The good thing is there’s so much alcohol in there it effectively cooks the fishy tentacle. Good luck getting through three.
- 60ml gin- 10ml green chartreuse- 1 tentacle (one octopus enough for eight drinks)!Stir the gin and green chartreuse over ice and strain into a frozen martini glass. Garnish with the tentacle. For extra panache, skewer the tentacle with a cocktail sword.
Bompas & Parr’s Tutti Frutti at Kew Gardens Palm House Lake, 25th May - 1st September, 2013.
-The Truvia Voyage of Discovery with Bompas & Parr, July 2011
Adventure Hamper, November 2011
A Culinary Odyssey with Bompas & Parr, March 2012
(Photo Credits: Ann Charlott Ommedal, Nathan Pask, Ben Ottewell and Kit Neal)