Q&A: Bompas & Parr

They’ve done more with jelly than you thought possible and are on a mission to make food fun.

Fantastical foodists Sam Bompas and Harry Parr – known best for their inventive, creative, and curious works with food and jelly – talk physics, grey hair, and Gizzi Erskine’s belly.

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. Photograph by Nathan Pask

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. Photograph by Nathan Pask

When are you happiest? Doing good work. Creating an installation that you’d genuinely love to go to yourself, getting it running, then having a celebratory drink. Maybe this would be a Guinness.

I like how Alekandro Jodorowsky describes his approach to film making: “Other film makers direct with their eyes, I direct with my testicles”.

It might sound odd but this is our approach to food art (f’art for short). We aim to make a powerful work that revolts, inspires and entices at one and the same time. The good thing is that food connects directly with people’s primordial brain. It can be very powerful in generating an emotional response. Afterall, the first art created by mankind was about food with cavemen sketching out the hunt on clammy cave walls.

Describe your typical day (in food!) For the most part our noses are to the grindstone. A great shame as this means Topps Pizza, and the local newsagent (for beers) benefit most from our business. Hardly fine dining but it keeps us buzzed on a sugar, fat, and salt high.

Given the chance we escape to the Boot and Flogger, the UK’s only venue allowed to serve alcohol without license. The owner is a freeman of the city and Vintner so gets a special dispensation. Or we go for meat at Hawksmoor; their dishes are savage.

On grand occasions, high days and celebrations Viajante has held the key. Nuno Mendes is the master. We can’t wait for his new restaurant to open.

We try to be a tourist in my own city at least once a week. Harry and I love hitting up the Barbican’s mysterious jungle conservatory, HMS Belfast, and the London Aquarium before knuckling down to an epic meal. Having lit the fires we’d then roll onto the mighty ECC in Chinatown. It’s tricky to find but always worthwhile with mind bending cocktails.

What’s the process behind your inventions/projects? We draw a fair bit of inspiration from history. Bags of time is spent in the London Library checking out historic cookery books – Alexis Soyer is one of our food idols. He was a Victorian version of Jamie Oliver, with books, magazines, products, restaurants and celebrity fans. He also created the world’s most fantastic restaurant which included ice caves with stuffed foxes, mirror chambers, London’s first cocktail bar, a medieval banqueting hall for 2,000 and a grotto which you had to go through a waterfall to enter.

What’s your ultimate ambition in food/art/architectural creation? We are currently working on dragging an iceberg from Newfoundland to NY to use to chill down cocktails. Working with a physicist, we’ve established this is a thousand times more energy efficient than creating the same volume of ice using a standard electrical ice machine.

Jelly installation at SS Great Britain. Photograph by Nathan Pask

Jelly installation at SS Great Britain. Photograph by Nathan Pask

Laws of physics and gelatin stocks aside, which of the world’s buildings/landmarks would you love to reconstruct in jelly, and why? Our greatest jelly triumph was creating a 50,000 tonne jelly around the historic ship SS Great Britain.

But right at the pinnacle of our ambition is to set the River Thames in jelly. It would be like the historic frost fairs when the river froze over but neon green and wobbly. There would be significant technical challenges to master before this would be possible.

Are there any tales of experimental disasters you’d care to share with us? With gritted teeth and determination you can pull anything back from disaster. Our work isn’t without its worries though. Harry’s hair was grey by the time he was twenty-five.

You’re holding a fantasy dinner party – who’s coming? Most of our food heroes are dead but here’s who we’d like to feast with given the chance:

Ivan Day, the brilliant food historian (alive)
Vincent Price, horror actor and connoisseur (dead)
Josephine Baker, rights activist, spy, banana dancer (dead)
PT Barnum, showman, mermaid importer (dead)
Aelister Crowley, mountaineer, Satanist, mixologist (dead)

What next for Bompas & Parr? Next up is Journey to the Centre of the Gut coming up on the 14th of March.

Working with the one of the UK’s leading gastroenterologist Dr Simon Anderson, we are presenting a fantastic voyage to the centre of Gizzi Erskine’s gut. Following a short introduction on the medical practice of endoscopy and gastroenterology the food writer, pop-up chef and Sunday Times columnist will swallow a SynMed pill-cam. This will stream footage from within as the camera moves along the alimentary canal.

The journey beyond the stomach will be scored by Dom James and his Alvine Argonauts who will play freeform jazz with peristaltic bass.

This will be the first time that anyone has been able to enjoy this unique perspective of a celebrated foodist – the view from inside their most sensitive organ – the belly.

The resulting footage will be used to illustrate a volume of Memoirs of a Stomach – an obscure 1853 diet book told from the perspective of a stomach. The art book combining scans of the volume with contemporary gastroenteroological photography will be printed as a limited edition run, distributed through selected bookshops in October. You can pick up tickets from our website:

Complete the sentence: “The meaning of food is…” Fun! In London we are lucky enough to live in a place where most of us don’t have to worry much about reaching our basic calorific requirements. In fact far more people are concerned about having too many calories. So we treat food as a branch of the entertainment industry.

After all when folk come along to our events they could be going to the opera, film, gig, having sex or doing any one of a whole host of fantastic and pleasure able activities. We aim to make the food even more sensational.

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