Harry Parr on giant jelly installations, chocolate mists, and edible fireworks
Table manners dictates that we don't play with our food, but we're glad the duo behind Bompas & Parr never heeded their mothers' advice. Founded by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, Bompas & Parr is a London-based design outfit that is now synonymous with the creation of some of the most eccentric and extravagant flavour-based experiences the world has known. Think edible clouds of gin-and-tonic, and fireworks that explode and scatter edible flavoured confetti into awestruck mouths. In the hands of these architectural foodsmiths, the surreal world of Willy Wonka is no longer a fantasy, but a very tasty reality.
For the first time in Singapore, guests attending tonight's Magnum launch of the Magnum Infinity ice cream will get a taste of the genius that is Bompas & Parr. We caught up with Harry Parr to find out more about his fascination with jelly and all manner of edible fantasies.
When Bompas & Parr was established in 2007, you started out with a focus on jelly. Why jelly?
There's a huge amount of nostalgia associated with jelly. Everyone in Britain has fond memories of being a child and enjoying jelly. We thought there was a gap in the market for a more adult-orientated jelly featuring fresh fruit, interesting flavours, and different shapes. The more we got into it, the more we discovered that it had an incredibly rich history. We started discovering these very old cookbooks with all sorts of fascinating recipes and techniques for jelly. The history of jelly spans over thousands of years. The jelly we love as children has nothing to do with the history that has gone before it. Rediscovering that history and using that to inform interesting projects is something we love to do.
After all these years of working with jelly, what unexpected qualities have you discovered about it?
When we started out, we were really excited that we were able to make our own moulds. That was really important. All the Victorian moulds out there were very expensive and it prompted us to make our own. At that time, I was studying architecture and I knew how to work with 3D-printing to craft our own moulds. Working with our own moulds meant that we could change the shape of our jellies quite successfully.
People often think that if you have boundaries, you can't be creative; but that's not true. These boundaries work very well in the case of jelly. There are three factors you need to work with when it comes to jelly: shape, flavour, colour. Each factor has a lot of variety within it, and by combining them in the right way, you can do lots. You can't make them very big though. The biggest jelly we've done weighed 50 tonnes. This happened when we surrounded a boat, the SS Great Britain, with lime green jelly.
From luminescent ice cream to gin-and-tonic clouds, your projects hardly toe the line of convention. Where do you mine your ideas from?
We have a big library and do a lot of historical research. We also speak to academics and historians. We do a lot of work with the University College of London and worked with them to developed flavoured fireworks for New Year's Eve. For this project, we worked with a historian, Simon Werrett, who specialises in the history of fireworks. We looked at everything that people had done on fireworks before for inspiration and he assured us that no one had ever put flavour into fireworks. So we did it. Whe created red fireworks that tasted like strawberries and gold ones that tasted like bananas. The confetti from the fireworks were entirely edible.
On another occasion, we created a giant punch bowl by flooding a building with four tonnes of cognac-based punch which people were able to row across. The idea for that came from historical records of Edward Russell, the First Lord of Admiralty, who filled up a fountain with lots of alcohol to form a giant cocktail and held a party for three days. He had a little boy to paddle around in a small boat to top up everyone's cups. We read about it and thought we could try to recreate that while working within the boundaries of modern health and safetly precautions.
We hear you love to partner with people from industries that don't usually deal with food. What's the most memorable partnership you've embarked on?
It'll have to be with scientists and doctors who look at the respiratory functions on astronauts and deep sea divers. We worked with them to vapourise gin and tonic into a cloud that you could inhale. They were helping us to work out how much alcohol could be absorbed through the lungs before people got drunk.
Tell us about the experience you designed for the upcoming Magnum event.
We began with the Magnum Infinity, the most intense tasting Magnum yet, and played off the idea of how its decadent flavours are a pleasure that keeps on giving. With that as a starting point, and referencing the idea of what we spoke about earlier about the relationship between jelly and nostalgia, we built an adult-orientated playground. We thought about nostalgic moments from our childhood and tried to reimagine that pleasure mapping over to adulthood.
We've installed some skyline swings up on the top of the Esplanade; they stand four-metres high and swing guests out over the edge of the building itself. It's really about taking a normal device you'll find in a playground and making it more extreme. Then we have a twisting slide, six-metres high, pulsating with LED lights.
In terms of the flavour, we looked at a few things. One is playing with flavour perception. So we found out that if you listened to the sounds of yourself eating a carrot while eating one, the carrot tastes fresher, better, and more intense. With that, we looked at the sounds you get when you sink your teeth into the outer chocolate coating of a Magnum Infinity. There's a room you can go into, and we play these sounds, and you walk through a galaxy full of mirrors. Then we have a flavoured chocolate mist that's used to prime your tastebuds before you eat the ice cream. We taste so much flavour through smell alone. All those different flavour sensations then come up through the back of your nose. It gets you salivating. The increased humidity in Singapore actually enhances flavour as well.
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