My Week: Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr

The catering entrepreneur on getting his hands dirty, a new way to get your five a day and foie gras-eating veggies.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The last week has been pretty full on. Saturday and Sunday were spent winding up after our big event last week, The Complete History of Food. We described the event as an ‘edible epic’, where diners ate their way through 730 years of history. Basically we took over a mansion in Belgrave Square and built installations in six different rooms that diners would pass through, tucking into a course in each room.  

This was something we designed and curated, with the help of historians – we wanted to get it just right. The visitors who came along ate in the flooded Medieval chamber, a recreation of the 1853 iguanodon dinner (a New Year’s Eve meal that took place inside a giant dinosaur sculpture), and a renaissance banqueting house with the world’s first bio-responsive food – jellies that pulsate in time with your heart and change colour.

It took two days to build all of that and we had four different art teams, but my business partner Harry and I were still getting our hands dirty. We were still there sugar coating sculptures into the small hours the night before it opened. By the weekend we had been working 18-hour days all week, so I was pretty tired. In fact, on Sunday morning I woke up at 4am with my head resting on my computer - a sign perhaps that I hadn’t been getting enough sleep. Needless to say that the email I had been writing before I fell asleep wasn’t terribly coherent…

On Monday – once the installation was over – we had to break it down and clean the building. To give you some idea of how much stuff there was, the pile of debris going out of the building was about two storeys high. We managed to recycle the most part - some will go into other projects and some will go back to our studio. Harry and I were the last people off site and the final moment of Monday was quite special – seeing the head of the model iguanodon hauled into the back of our last lorry.

It’s always a bit sad when we finish something like that because the people we work with are so great. But at the same time, part of the reason it’s so special is because it is transient – that means that when it is up and running you really enjoy it. One of my favourite moments of the whole exhibition was when a woman who had been a vegetarian for 25 years tucked into a foie gras Ferrero Rocher. If you can give someone an experience that prompts them to push their boundaries that far then you know you’re doing something right.

Since that project finished we’ve been working on a number of other things. We’re prototyping and testing some items for a ‘giant picnic’ for a client. This includes scotch eggs that have to be a foot across, metre-square sandwiches and foot-long sausages. Because equipment just isn’t made for food that big we’ve had to make all the moulds and tins and even the knives ourselves. Luckily we have an oven at our development kitchen big enough to cook it all in.

The other thing is that’s taking up our time is making a three-storey inflatable installation called the Ziggurat of Flavour that will appear at the Big Chill festival. Basically, we’ve designed and made an installation, ‘a fruit cloud’ that people can go inside and they will get one of their five a day just by breathing in.

The process behind it is complicated – we’ve been working with scientists for six months to get it right – but basically the fresh fruit is being prepared onsite, liquefied and clarified though reverse osmosis and then sprayed into the installation. The whole experience culminates in a giant slide which we’re building in the studio at the moment. I know it sounds some of this sounds a bit weird, but it’s part of the mystery of our job - sometimes it’s best not to get too philosophical about it.  

Sam Bompass is the co-founder of ‘architectural foodsmiths’ Bompass & Parr

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