It’s always refreshing when your interview subject lives up to the expectations set by their work. Sam Bompas is one such interviewee who doesn’t disappoint. His answers are as bright, full of life and all over the place as the things he creates with business partner Harry Parr. Food provocateurs, flower-loving champagne quaffers, retro-futuristic sculptors, armpit-centric matchmakers… Well, it might be best to just read on yourselves for a glimpse into their positively tantalising world.
How did Bompas & Parr come into being? What were you both doing before making the leap?
Harry and I are old friends and have now known each other for most of our lives. It means that by now some of our staff think we are psychic – we’ve been talking about our approach to design, food, architecture and the cosmos [for a long time]. Few words need to be said to convey huge amounts of meaning. As Harry’s not super talkative sometimes I have to translate his mysterious looks and laser eyes to the rest of the team!
We started Bompas & Parr nearly nine years ago as something fun to do on the weekend. It’s still fun to do but has now expanded to dominate all waking hours.
Originally our focus was on jelly. As we couldn’t afford the antique copper moulds we wanted to use, Harry started using the skills, techniques and technologies he’d learnt while training to be an architect to design jellies.
This approach of propagating techniques appropriated from different disciplines is now a key approach of ours. We love the creative rush that comes with sitting down with an ethnobotanist, micro-biologist, experimental psychologist, mycologist or magician!
Whilst predominantly working with food, a lot of your work seems to be concerned with providing a multi-sensory experience. Could you talk a little about this and how you try to captivate all senses beyond taste?
Food is the ultimate multi-sensory medium. If you are cooking for someone you are luxuriously addressing all the senses. Even sound – both through bone conductivity and mastication and a grand playlist; there is nothing worse than a restaurant with a poor acoustic profile.
Now we set out to delight the full gamut of the senses – giving folks a total sensory assault. One that grips them by the throat and says, “on your knees!” in a stentorian voice.
A lot of your projects contain a very physical element beyond the conceptual/food-focused part. How do you go about reacting to a brief? Does the food always come first?
All our ideas start with a simple two-word concept. Lava Banquet, Multisensory Fireworks, Breathable Booze or Thermochromatic Flowers. It then has to work experientially for the people who attend and visually and verbally for those who can’t and are seeing it in the press and on social media. Ultimately it has to have a total emotional impact. Renoir said, “I paint with my penis.” We take the same approach.
What does a typical day look like for you at Bompas and Parr? If indeed there is such a thing…
This is beyond impossible as there is so much vigour and variety between days. One day last week, for example, I worked on an armpit-sniffing speed dating event, took delivery of a black metal electric wheel chair, developed cocktail recipes for the Museum of Sex in NYC and began researching the future of plants.
Your website highlights a prominent list of 'fine art' projects you've undertaken. How do these come about? Do you approach them differently to the way you would approach a commercial brief?
We don’t differentiate between fine art projects, self-initiated projects, private commissions and installations for brands. I suspect the laureled artists of yore didn’t either. Ultimately it is about doing excellent work that gives participants and viewers a compelling emotional experience.
Let’s turn to your recent, flower-focused project for The Edition Hotel. How did the idea for that come about? Was there a link between the flowers and the champagne beyond simply being strong signifiers of the Valentine's Day experience?
So Perrier Jouet, the champagne house we were working with, started with a love story. What’s more, the house has always been hugely interested in innovations in botany and the relationship between art and nature. Firstly for viniculture and the love of the vine, but also for the glory of the plant itself. Charles Perrier kept over 300 different varietals of orchid in his jungle hot houses.
Could you tell us a little about the technology behind those amazing colour changes?
We were impregnating the flowers with thermochromatic paints and liquid crystal. This allowed them to change colour dramatically in response to heat – that of a flame, or the hot breath of a lover!
Do you see any parallels between the joys of beautiful flowers and the joys of a great food experience?
The two are intrinsically interlinked. Flower’s delight the eye on the best tables and I actually wrote an essay on the subject for our book, Feasting with Bompas & Parr
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up that you'd like to share with us?
Right now we are working on our next book Awesome Cocktails out in July. We are also working on whole cow cookery; the next chapter for the British Museum of Food; a new cultural institution; collaborating with some excellent arts institutions like MAM in Sao Paulo, and still also doing jellies for people’s weddings.
Any plans to work with flowers or plants again in the future?
To the hilt. They bring a joy which is the core message of Bompas & Parr. At the moment we are working on four projects with flowers including one which will allow you to experience the consciousness of a plant.
Flowers are also a crucial part of our work with food and mixology. At the moment we are studying the recipes of the ancient Druids for use in our bar, Alcoholic Architecture. According to the writings of Caesar and Tacitus they were adepts at plant lore. A fitting inspiration for drinks in a bar where there is a breathable cloud of Gin & Tonic – like the lost weather of Albion!
Do you send flowers as gifts? What do you think it is about flowers that can make them such good gifts?
It is essential. It breaks my heart when I am with a girl who has never been sent flowers before. I send them with all speed and splendour.
You sometimes have to be careful though. The first time I sent a bouquet to my first girlfriend I called her in the evening and she was in tears. She thought I’d dumped her through the medium (and archaic language) of flowers. When I assured her this wasn’t the case she thought I’d done something truly terrible. It took me a full evening of wooing to persuade her that I just loved her and wanted to celebrate her femininity!
Do you have a favourite flower?
Always ultra-tropicals (that hopefully fruit) like the Monstera Deliciosia. The fleshy spathes are said to taste like fruit salad!
Anna Charlott Ommedal