It all started with jelly. This simple dessert led Sam Bompas and his partner, Harry Parr, into a world of multi-sensory dining experiences. “Eleven years ago we left proper jobs to found an artisanal jelly company,” Bompas tells What We Seee. “Wanting to control every element of the dining experience soon meant we were innately creating multi-sensory experiences whether this was flooding the roof of Selfridges to make a boating lake with float-up bar, founding the British Museum of Food or working with the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern art to create a retrospective that teaches you all about your sophisticated taste apparatus.” Now Bompas & Parr is a multi-disciplinary studio who work with everyone – from cook to psychologists to structural engineers – to create food artwork and installations.
And they’re always looking to deepen and broaden our understanding of food. “We have a flavour library of over 40,000 different flavours. There’s a whole host to navigate. At the moment we are working on developing a new language of flavour to help make these flavours easier to articulate. The Japanese have over 400 words for texture in food while in English we only have around 50. Having more words and categories enables a deeper understanding.”
Although working in food and dining experiences and installation is an exciting challenge, it’s also involved a lot of determination in not only designing, but expanding, their own path. “Eleven years deep in this, we revel in working in the uncharted arenas of creativity,” Bompas explains. “This is where the stimulating work lies and where you genuinely get to learn a whole host as you progress. This in itself is phenomenally rewarding. We search for experts in whatever field we are working in, flavourists, pyrotechnicians, ethnobotanists to help us navigate the arenas safely and then bring new fields of knowledge to them. In doing so you create something genuinely new. Recently we used this technique to create the world’s first edible hologram. In the past we’ve created flavour firework shows you can taste for audiences of a quarter of a million people, levitating food, and breathable clouds of G&T that intoxicate through the lungs and eyeballs.”
But to them, the V&A has always been a source of inspiration — which makes the upcoming talk so fitting. “This is a place we regularly use as a resource for inspiration,” he explains. “We are frequently given briefs on a Friday night that ask the studio to define the future of glassware and to have an answer ready by Monday morning. Visiting the V&A and exploring their collections is a rich speedway for the brain. I’m hoping the new exhibition will provide similarly galvanising material. If you step out of a museum with just one fresh idea, it is worth the journey. When you leave the V&A, you do so with fistfuls of new concepts, ready to shape reality.” In the discussion, he’ll be talking about new angles in food innovation, from genetic modification to wearable technology to imaging foods that you might have thought were impossible.
History And Culture
And of course, they’re already looking beyond this project and into the next one. “Our next show looks at the total history and culture of ice cream and includes objects drawn from the world’s largest collection of ice-cream paraphernalia which numbers over 14,000,” he explains. “Putting it together was the work of a lifetime for Caroline and Robin Weir, and to date, it has never been exhibited. Voltaire said ‘Ice cream is exquisite, what a pity it isn’t illegal.’ This show is going to be a total sensory assault. We’ve been working with neuroimagers, laser specialists and microbiologists to show you what goes on in your brain when you eat an ice cream. You’ll also be able to taste the ice-creams of the future, one of which glows in the dark.” Food hits on so many different levels, and it’s fascinating to see companies like Bompas & Parr explore how those different planes can work together to ultimately great a deeper experience.
The “Future Series: Food” discussion will take place on Friday, 18 of May. Tickets are on sale now.