Wobble and conquer
A bear standing on its hind legs and something that looks as if it’s been retrieved from the prop department of Ridley Scott’s Alien movie are among the hundreds of jelly molds and random curiosities jostling for space in Bompas & Parr’s south London studio.
‘The aim for us is to always create a sense of joy, wonder and inspiration in our audience’
Sam Bompas emerges, his multicolored jeans and crisp white shirt off-setting the powder blue walls behind him. The surreal, life-affirming world of the UK’s most buzzed-about culinary wizards has grown steadily since its inception in 2007, when Bompas and his school friend Harry Parr’s first professional fresh fruit jelly escaped its mold.
Since then, their jelly creations have taken ever more fantastical shapes, ranging from structures conceived in collaboration with leading architect Norman Foster to an elaborate Indian jellyscape commissioned for the runway show of fashion label Tata Naka.
Last summer, Harrods invited the duo to set up a pop-up store in its food hall. A colorful jelly version of the famous department store took center stage.
Though the quirky dessert, which had its heyday in the Victorian era, is at the “wobbly heart” of the business, the entrepreneurs also dream up non-saccharine inventions such as bio-responsive gardens, multisensory fireworks and walk-in Gin clouds designed to intoxicate anyone breathing in the alcoholic fumes.
Last autumn, the company worked on Dinner at the Twits, an immersive theatrical dining experience based on Roald Dahl’s most despicable characters. “This was probably the only time we’ll ever be commissioned to do a meal with food that is actively disgusting,” chuckles Bompas.
“We started the project by working with a psychologist, looking at food taboos and breaking them in order to push people out of their relative bounds of safety and into the unknown,” explains Bompas. “Diners overcame their fears by being rewarded with food that was actually good.”
On the menu were eggs cooked on a compost heap and bristling bird pie, with feet and claws sticking out – all washed down with a pint of Odious Ale. “To make the Odious Ale, we went Roald Dahl’s estate, swabbing down the back of his old sofa and using the specimen to cultivate and brew the beer.”
Whether designing glow-in-the-dark jelly or grotesque feasts, Bompas and Parr always aim to stir emotions. “The aim for us is to always create a sense of joy, wonder and inspiration in our audience,” says Bompas. “We try to educate and entertain, hoping that people will leave our events with amazing tales to tell and lots of good pictures to show their friends.”
Currently, the creative pair are working on what might be their most ambitious project yet – the founding of the British Museum of Food. “Food is so democratic, much more so than, say, design, yet there isn’t a dedicated food museum in London,” Observes Bompas. “We want to change that.”
Bompas & Parr hosted a pop-up prototype of the museum last year, and its permanent incarnation will no doubt bear fruit of the most imaginative kind.
Text: Emma Holmqvist Deacon