First there were the YBAs. Emerging in the late 1980s, a generation of artists who flourished in London’s contemporary art scene, led by Damien Hirst, followed by Tracey Emin and Sam Taylor-Wood and supported by art collector Charles Saatchi. 25 years later and a new generation of conceptual artists have arrived—the YBFs. Young British Foodies, for those who haven’t brushed up on the acro-jargon of late.
Not just an umbrella term for young chefs, artists and entrepreneurs, Young British Foodies is now a celebrated awards event, which took place in September at Tanner and Co in Bermondsey. The YBF Awards celebrate the new generation of talented and passionate gastronomes at the forefront of Britain’s culinary-cum-art scene. Judging the awards this year was Sam Bompas and Harry Parr of Bompas & Parr, the trailblazing duo who are, arguably, at the forefront of the YBF scene.
Founded in 2007, ‘The Jellymongers’—the pseudonym Harry and Sam have assigned themselves, collectively, met while at school. “Harry and I met at Eton in the second orchestra,” says Sam. “Neither of us were much good at our respective instruments, but we sure liked to eat and drink. We’d sneak up to London and spend all the money we could get our hands on, on fancy food and powerful alcohols. It was fairly sybaritic for 16-year-olds. I even started a pornography business to raise the cash for fine dining. So I guess even then we were making money doing the things we love.”
Thankfully, once Sam and Harry realised they had a knack for making jelly look incredibly palatable, the two managed to channel their creativity into other more successful ventures. “We started Bompas & Parr as we wanted something fun to do on weekends. Borough Market [London] was halfway between our two houses so we thought it would be a blast to get a stall selling fine jellies. They told us the idea was ridiculous and to get lost, but we’ve been tenacious after the initial set back. Five years on and we’ve jellied on six of the world’s seven continents and created our meat-based desserts for rock stars, royalty and world leaders. Now we make jellies and watch them all flock. Party on!”
In 2008, a year after their launch, Sam and Harry created an Architectural Jelly Banquet for the London Festival of Architecture, which took place in University College London’s Main Quad, London. The event catapulted Bompas & Parr into the public eye, attracting names such as architect Sir Norman Foster and Heston Blumenthal.
Today, what was once just two, Bompas & Parr is now a thriving team of cooks, specialist technicians, architects, graphic designers and administrators, who work with Sam and Harry to experiment, develop, produce and install projects, artworks, jellies and exhibitions, as well as archiving, communicating, and contextualising the work.
Regularly working on exciting concepts with well-known names, Bompas & Parr were behind the Architectural Punchbowl project in 2010. In partnership with Courvoisier, the project saw exploding cocktails to the scale of buildings. Approached by Selfridges in 2011, Bompas & Parr were commissioned to install a green rowing lake on the rooftop of its London department store. “For the Truvia Voyage of Discovery we flooded the roof of Selfridges to create a 60 tonne boating lake and float up bar, six storeys above Europe’s busiest shopping street. As we were using 60 tonnes of water there was a real danger that the roof would collapse. We ended up working with three separate engineering firms to make sure this didn’t happen. Once the project was up, we offered ecstatic libations to the sky, toasting each other with ECC’s fine cocktails.”
Transgressive, avant-garde, unconventional, postmodern, call it what you will, Bompas & Parr’s creations are a mix of high-end, bespoke, visionary art and that of humour and conviviality. Always seeking out new ways to push the boundaries of the multisensory experience for their audience, Harry and Sam have toyed with glow-in-the-dark alcoholic jelly creations for celebrity Mark Ronson and a project for Scratch and Sniff cards, to accompany a one-off scratch and sniff screening of Bill Forsyth’s film Gregory’s Girl.
Their most recent project was in collaboration with Kew Gardens in Richmond, which involved transforming Kew’s Palm House Pond into a giant fruit salad boating lake for Kew’s summer festival, IncrEdibles: A Voyage through Surprising Edible Plants.
Spreading their fun loving ways with jelly fiends the world over, Harry and Sam have begun taking a global approach. In 2012, the Bompas & Parr team travelled to New York, equipped with a boatload of jelly, for a dinner produced and designed by Fiona Leahy, marking the launch of the incredible Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama collaboration. Talking of their antics abroad, Sam told me: “Recently we’ve participated in seminars on food and art at the MAM [Museu de Arte Moderna] in São Paulo, jellied for the Kusama exhibition at the Whitney [Whitney Museum of American Art] in New York and exhibited at MART [Contemporary and Modern Art Museum of Trento and Rovereto] in Italy.
“For Kusama’s show at the Whitney we were doing a vast jelly sculpture, a cityscape of New York City in the characteristic red and white. It was pretty awe inspiring.”
Sam explains how their collaboration with MART involved looking at design in the context of food. “We were presenting our unique take on food, using innovative technology and cutting-edge techniques to the medium, to generate new forms and modes of dining. For many events we work with neuroscientist, engineers, magicians and chemists, to create extraordinary experiences.”
One of Bompas & Parr’s most recent collaborations took place for FOUR’s summer edition cover shoot, featuring a tutti frutti summer theme and highlighting the association between food and pleasure, shot by food photographer Jean Cazals. “We wanted to create a cover that satisfied all readers’ alvine desires.” Sam explains: “Of course, we are obsessed with jelly but we wanted to combine it with the prime organ of gustation: the mouth. We love that moment when people actually put food in their mouth. It is very intimate. The sharing of that moment, and food, leads to the most powerful relationship.”
With Sam and Harry taking on more international projects, there’s a host of other Young British Foodies gaining recognition in the capital to fill their void.
Challenging the boundaries between food and art, Tasha Marks of AVM (Animal Vegetable Mineral) Curiosities is the latest contender in this year’s YBF Awards. A Food Historian, Tasha began her career in curious food creations working closely with Bompas and Parr as part of the Experimental Food Society—an organisation of the UK’s most talented and pioneering culinary creatives.
In 2011 Tasha founded AVM Curiosities, a fine-arts events and edible interventions catering company which brings history to life through the medium of food, museum-style exhibitions and sculptural installations, interactive lectures and limited-edition confectionary. Tasha has been behind the window display for Selfridges’ Bright Young Things 2013 campaign, where she also received an award.
Other affiliates of the Experimental Food Society are Chloé Morris of Edible Stories, Louise Bloor, founder of the Fragrant Supper Club and elaborate cake creator, Michelle Wibowa.
Diners at Chloé Morris’ fairytale-inspired events arrive unaware of who, what, where and how their evenings will unravel, embarking on an edible experience, becoming protagonists in their own food-inspired fairytale. Most recently, Chloé hosted an event in London’s Kensington for a group of VIP guests and will be hosting three events across London every month until February 2014.
Food and fragrance artist, Louise Bloor decided to launch a dining event company serving dishes that draw on the combinations she loves in perfume.. “I am a perfumer and the supper club draws on what I’ve learned in perfumery and incorporates it in aromatic dishes.” Louise explains: “I’ve found that a lot of the combinations that work well as a smell also work well as a taste. Geranium and lime is a great combination in perfume and also makes a refreshing ice cream. Bitter orange and orange blossom is a refined combination of sweet and sharp and is a beautiful flavour for an aromatic lamb tagine. I also use smell to enhance taste—like eating scallops with chopsticks dipped in lime or clary sage essential oil to see how the different smell affects the taste.” As well as her regular supper clubs in Dalston, Louise has hosted events for corporate guests like Microsoft, Google and Dunhill, and worked on food and fragrance projects for clients including Häagen-Dazs and Pernod Ricard.
Never has the bridge between the culinary and art worlds been stronger, with the London-based YBFs leading the way. To find out more about the YBF Awards, visit: www.the-ybfs.com. To find out more about the Experimental Food Society, visit: www.experimentalfoodsociety.com.
Find out more about FOUR's UK Edition here.
BOMPAS & PARR images © Jean Cazals; Nathan Pask Photography; beth evans; Ann Charlott Ommedal; Alexandra Constantinides. AVM Curiosities images © Paul Mitchell, Paul Singer, Chelsea Bloxsome