Helen Martin Glaberson recounts her never-to-be-forgotten experience at Bompas & Parr’s “A Culinary Odyssey” evening, consuming food and drink only ever conceived of before in science fiction novels…
After hearing about Bompas & Parr’s “Culinary Odyssey“ event I knew there was no way I would miss out on this incredibly intriguing evening. With a menu promising insect pasta and hair protein shots I couldn’t quite believe they would actually dish up, unless I saw and tasted it for myself.
Sam Bompas told me in the build up to the event, the whole thing would be based around possible ‘foods of the future’ – dishes conceived in science fiction novels. So, for six months, the ‘Jellymonger’ duo have worked with food designers, micro-nutritionists, set builders and biochemists employing ‘cutting edge technology’ to create the 21 March food fest.
Immediately it was clear all the hard work had been worth it. Even on approach of the One Marylebone venue, lit from within with eerie red lights, we could feel that something rather special was in store. Blowing our minds from the second we entered the first room, we were greeted with a ball of meringue bobbing around in mid-air, thanks to a levitation device created by Poietic Studio. The whole event had a very surreal “Willy Wonka” style feel, where we were invited to pick up and taste all of the crazy foods being demonstrated (you can imagine my inner child was literally ecstatic with joy). With a mouth full of crumbling pink meringue we wandered on to look at the millions of hand-sized ants – part of Rhea Thierstein’s amazing Kubrick-style set.
The adjoining room hosted the “Food Pill” machine, inspired by George Pal (1955) Conquest of Space, where we were confronted by various bowls of different coloured pellets. I felt very much like a naughty Wonka child when the contents of my mouth turned completely blue after delving my hand into a bowl of blue tablets. (The next five minutes where spent desperately trying to rinse my mouth out in the toilet, after which I gave up and surrendered to the blueness).
Once out of brief hiding, my blue tongue and I braved the the main room. Here, ”The Kitchenaid Culinary Odyssey Band”, dressed in rather dashing white jackets and shiny silver leggings, played as guests tried and tested different alcoholic potions from “The Planetary Bar”. Alcoholic mastery by the Experimental Cocktail Club (EEC) included concoctions such as “Milk Plus – Khat Milk”, from Anthony Burgess’ (1962) Clockwork Orange. This drink is made from rum, pineapple, lemon, toasted spiced-tea mix, coconut water and khat leaf and is like drinking delicious coconut-flavoured shaving foam from a straw. There was also the “Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster”, from Douglas Adams’ (1979) Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This bottle-shaped tipple is meant to be “The alcoholic equivalent of a mugging”, which, unsurprisingly was slightly intoxicating, but thankfully didn’t totally knock me out – as I initially suspected it would. In the corner, “Nourishment”, made from Tequila, dry vermouth, citrus and violette liquer was being poured into ice-chilled glasses by a robotic arm, a beverage invented by Roger Vadim in Barbarella (1968).
Throughout the night, canapés where offered out. Our favourite by far was little squares of succulent and tasty diced steak, or “Quadraped Dish of the Day – American Major Cow” (From Douglas Adams (1980), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe). The goat’s cheese, “Algae Crops”, from James Blish’s (1957) Cities in Flight, were delicious too – despite their off-putting name. The soft creamy texture made for a strange but great combination with the powerful, fresh ginger.
I have to say Roger Spottiswoode’s “Nacho Bananas” (dry chips with a gooey cheese and salsa dip) weren’t top of my favourites list (although it was a crazy combination I’m pleased to have attempted). It appeared the combo was not catching on particularly well with the crowd as our deserted dish was soon joined by a family of other full nacho bowls on an aside table.
In the next room we tasted melt-in-the-mouth “Cookies of Nostalgia” from the Wachowski brother’s Matrix, made from the very new and snazzy KitchenAid machine, (its UK launch forms part of the Culinary Odyssey event). Here we also consumed a bowl of – probably one of the lightest, most delicious frozen bowls I have ever eaten – “Instant Ice Cream”, made from liquid nitrogen, conceived by Agnes B Marshall, author of Fancy Ices.
In the following chamber hung Rhea Thierstein’s fantastically huge wasps and humungous maggots bursting out of the wall to represent the insect pasta being made and dished up a few metres away. This “Insect Protein” dish, from Brian David Johnson’sFood of the Future (2013) , was an interesting first for me, although I have to say the texture of spiky insect leg was rather off-putting. And the pea puree and spinach shot probably would have gone down a treat, if I didn’t know it had the addition of real human hair oil. But stomach-churning as it was, it was incredibly exciting to try Richard Fleischer’s “Humans/Reformatted Protein” and is certainly a foodie experience that will stick with me forever – not many people can say they’ve drunk human hair.
Unfortunately we were too late to try a “Bioluminescent Lolly”, (born from Bruce Sterling’s (1988) Islands in the Net). We were disappointed as it sounded like a great concept, made with synthesized Renilla Luciferase – the protein responsible for making jellyfish and fireflies glow. But we entered the little tent set up to see the glowing sweets in action, which was still rather exciting to see little pots of glowing goo.
Then, as if things couldn’t get any crazier, there was a “Sugar In The Air”, demonstration room. A fantastic idea inspired from EC Large’s (1937) Sugar in the Air.A Romance. You enter through a door behind the toilet, where there’s a girl giving out all-in-one white boiler style suits. “I’ve been standing here for an hour and I’m a little giddy,” she says. You can see why, we’re not even in the room yet but the sweet cloud seeping from the room is already making our heads feel rather light. Enter in and you see nothing but ‘fog’. The room is completely clogged with alcohol air – they should have more bars like this. After a bit of time inhaling rum and cola, we realised it may be time to call it a night. With that, we forcefully ejected ourselves for the little alcoholic haven, back into the bright sobering lights of the real, oxygenated air of the outside world and steer ourselves back to London 2012, ready to rest our over-wowed brains.
Now the “A Culinary Odyssey” event is over, Bompas & Parr are now busy working towards their next few projects, including a climbing wall made of chocolate (a bit apprehensive to try that one on a sunny day) and an event at the Brighton Fringe Festival “Hendrick’s Library of Delightfully Peculiar Writings”, where the public can see the pair’s exploding cakes in action. After experiencing the foodsmiths’ mastery first hand, I am super excited to check out their next edible extravaganza, as now I know when it comes to these two, literally anything is possible.
Photos: credit to Ben Ottewell and Ann Charlott Ommedal