Bompas and Parr’s The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet will bring a groundbreaking multi-sensory culinary experience to Expo 2020 Dubai.
Inspired by the Novacene, a future era hypothesised by centenarian scientist and inventor James Lovelock, the immersive gastronomic adventure will fuse hedonism and sustainability, exploring issues such as world hunger and food waste as it features delicacies formed with futuristic techniques.
Characteristically, while replete with fun and decadent irreverence, the banquet has an underlying serious mission.
The rise of food-based experiences
Sam Bompas last spoke with blooloop in 2017. What has happened to the pair in the interim has been reflective of what has been happening in the wider world.
“There has, obviously, been a total acceleration of this realm; we’re right in the thick of it. Unusually, we have very deep expertise in the realm of food and drink. In contrast, many of the operators are coming into this from slightly different angles.
“There are the likes of Secret Cinema who are coming at it from cinematic function. Or Punch Drunk from an immersive theatre angle. Or, Meow Wolf, very successfully running at it from an artistic background. Our lens, our toolbox, is food and drink,” says Bompas.
The importance of sensory components
It is, of course, a useful toolbox to have:
“We do a lot of our own projects and develop our own IPs,” Bompas says. “We’re also advising a lot of other people’s IPs and helping other operators find sites. Plus, advising on F&B and multi-sensory components because we have a lot of knowledge about things like smell or taste.
“If you’re coming from other disciplines, be it fine art, or theatre, or cinema, for example, those are secondary considerations. Whereas, for our professional career, they have been primary considerations. It’s an interesting time.”
“The final bit of it is that we spend a lot of our time working with brands around the world. They’re also waking up to the fact they have spent two years trying to do digital experiences, then realising that they’re absolutely crap.
“I’ve been on a lot of panels over the last two years where I’ve sat there and felt, many times, like the only person in the room. Digital things just didn’t really marry up to the embodied real-life experiences. Over the two years, no one could point out a digital experience that was as good as the real-life analogue that it was trying to mimic, replicate or replace.”
The evolution of LBE
Nevertheless, he says:
“One of the good things is that digital integration into in-real-life experience is more effective now. This is important, given that if you walk down the road or sit in a Tube carriage, you see that everyone has a phone in their hands.”
With that more effective integration, he points out, comes better opportunities for capturing and sharing experiences, and for generating revenue and spend per head seamlessly across an experience.
Now…people who hold the property take leisure seriously as a long-term strategy. They are not just thinking of it as an interim use. It’s such an awesome future.
Concerning the evolution of location-based experiences, he says
“We are seeing established operators, often coming from theme parks, taking on these new challenges that have been bubbling up organically. Many came about as a result of the 2008 recession. This made property available to do interesting things. And the trend has now accelerated because retail has taken a hammering, and there are more commercial properties.
“The difference now is that people who hold the property take leisure seriously as a long-term strategy. They are not just thinking of it as an interim use. It’s such an awesome future.”
A big break
Bompas and Parr got their break when a landlord offered them space in a shop on which he would otherwise have had to pay empty building rates.
“That forced us to think about how we could do something that would generate revenue very quickly, to pay for itself in a couple of weeks. Actually, if you’ve got a good enough idea, you can generate huge amounts of revenue over a longer period of time. It needs to be a really good idea, but that’s part of the fun.”
“That is a very candid rundown of everything across the whole industry. Basically, what it means is that if you’ve got the right idea, if you’ve got the right partners from investment through to operations to sites, and you’re in the right place, you can do something remarkable.
“Of course, all those opportunity gates, from a London perspective, slightly flipped on their heads three months ago in terms in terms of availability of talent, and availability of spaces. Everyone is chasing the same things. But that competition means, ultimately, that real humans and we in the industry are going to get the chance to go to some absolutely awesome things, so that’s cool.”
Bompas & Parr at Expo 2020 Dubai
For Expo 2020, Bompas and Parr present The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet. The immersive 3-course dining experience and culinary odyssey is themed around space, microbiology, artificial intelligence and hyper-intelligence. Featuring numerous world firsts, cutting-edge technology and world-class performers, it takes creativity, innovation and technology to a new level.
The two hour, multi-room experience is designed to expand the diner’s perception of the possibilities of the future of food. Highlights include glow-in-the-dark entrees, ultra-rare ingredients and flavour-changing desserts.
The concept is inspired by NOVACENE: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, an alternative hypothesis about the future by eminent scientist, inventor, futurist and maverick James Lovelock, who wrote the book as he was about to reach his 100th birthday. A chemist by training, he invented instruments for Mars rovers and helped to discover the depletion of the ozone layer. He is best known in pop culture for his “Gaia hypothesis”.
The future of food
“We do a lot of work on ‘futures of’,” says Bompas. “So, we have done consultancy work for the people who genuinely shape the way that we eat, and the way that we will eat. For example, when working with the drinks companies we will be looking at whisky, which is aged, as a minimum, for six years. It is becoming a very valuable commodity as the Scotch whisky market booms. You make a lot of money if you do more premium spirits as well.”
“It means we spend a lot of time peering into the future to advise the people who will actually deliver the food and drink goods for swathes of humanity, on what they should be looking at.
“We spend a lot of time writing annual future food reports, consulting with other people – WGSN and The Future Laboratory– who write reports, as well as presenting our own exciting findings at blooloop, which is our favourite forum for looking at what might happen in years to come.”
A scientific basis
With The Future of Food at Expo 2020 Dubai, Bompas and Parr are looking not just 20 years into the future, but much further.
“We want to do it not just as our opinions, but by working with the best thinkers in humanity. One of those people is scientist and inventor, James Lovelock who has the most amazing life story. We got to interview him about a month ago, which was incredible.
“He’s 102 years old now. Aged 100, he published a book on the Novacene. This looks at the dawn of the age of hyperintelligence, on which, in many ways, it feels that we are on the cusp.
“It means that rather than our Future exhibition being just our supposition, we’re basing it on someone who has thought widely and deeply about the subject. Someone who has a good track record of coming up with ideas that have then been proven true or impactful.
“He says that because he didn’t have a formal academic education, but has worked in academia for a long time, he’s able to draw together things that other people wouldn’t necessarily put together. We are big fans of the joy of the amateur. There is something to be said for naivety, enthusiasm, and incredible hard work. And also, for drawing together lots of different experts, which is what I feel I spend my life doing.”
An impressive career
Lovelock came up with the widely acknowledged Gaia hypothesis, invented NASA sensors and equipment, and, if he didn’t actually invent the microwave, certainly came up with one independently before they were commercially available, in the context of the reanimation of cryonically-preserved rodents using microwave diathermy.
“When we were speaking to him, he was telling us about his experiences with reanimating mice,” Bompas says. “He invented the microwave because he was working in cryonics at the time, looking at the impact of freezing and unfreezing on the bodies, performance and intelligence of mice.
“At the time, the very best way to reanimate them was to take the frozen mouse and heat it up using a hot spoon to warm their heart rapidly. He felt that it could be overly painful to the animals. So, he invented the microwave as a more humane way to reanimate them through the experiments. It’s an example of a man considering animal consciousness at a time when that was not done.”
“He has a phenomenal and exciting track record. The other thing is that his vision deep into the future is rather more optimistic than many.”
Decision making and the future of food
Lovelock’s book rejects self-flagellation around environmental destruction, positioning it as part of a process: ‘a product of evolution … an expression of nature.’
“We want people to engage, learn, and be inspired themselves, whether that means the choices within their own life or the choices they’ll make that will affect many people. Many of the people coming through the site will be decision-makers as to what humanity’s collective future will be.”
He compares the experience to a dream:
“It’s a good way to make informed decisions. One hypothesis suggests that the reason we dream is so that we can experience things. We rehearse them in our minds before they happen, so we can be better informed when they do. Here, we are basically doing a dress rehearsal for people’s futures so that those people can help us make the best choices when we get there.
“As William Gibson said, ‘The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.’
“We are trying to draw together different moments of futurity and concentrate them in a single installation. It is a chance for people to experience them before they emanate out into the wider world. That means that when they arrive at those futures, they will already have considered some of the moral, ethical, cultural, social, and biological implications, if only hypothetically.”
The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet at Expo 2020 Dubai
This is best done, he says, from a foundation of scientific best practice, on which the cultural elements can be layered;
“That is about working with our architects, our designers; with Nigel and Louise, our theatre directors, to create spectacle and playfulness and fun and humour. I think that also fits in with Lovelock’s optimistic view.”
Bompas and Parr’s The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet will feature the same techniques that NASA uses to collect dust. There will also be edible creations that glow in the dark, flavour changing desserts and rare ingredients. “There’s a lot going on,” he says:
“In each case, for the main courses, we have worked with remarkable scientists. We are factoring in things that they’re doing. For example, we are working with Professor Duncan Cameron at the University of Sheffield. He and his team are growing herbs in a simulated future atmosphere from the year 2220.
“We are hypothesizing exactly what the makeup of the atmosphere will be. Then, using the best modelling, pumping that into a grow tunnel and growing the dill that will go into the dishes for the main course.
“We’re also documenting that. I’m quite interested to see what happens. Climate change is going to have a huge impact on where and how we grow food. There are speculators buying up land that is under snow at the moment across Canada. Because it might be the next grain belt. Other places will have a tough time or will have to radically change their agronomy.
“So these gestures, these endeavours we’re doing which end up on the plate can have much wider implications.”
One course of the banquet is entirely glow-in-the-dark. Bompas explains:
“We’re working with Californian bioscientists using cell culture to synthesize very precise proteins. It’s about what happens in a post-meat landscape and letting people taste it. In this case, you’re getting collagen. This is another way for people to start exploring ideas about what authenticity means in terms of food. Authenticity has developed an aesthetic shorthand of beards and stripped wood, which in many ways is completely artificially simulated.”
So what is authenticity in food, and what are the future implications of genetic modification?
“In the next 35 years, we must grow as much food as previously grown in the whole of human history. It is going to be a terrific challenge. Within the scientific community, there is, by and large, consensus that genetic modification is the way that we’re going to do this.
“Throughout human history, agronomy has been an endeavour to manipulate genomes. In every age, we have used whatever our scientific best practice is. Today, we have a more powerful and extensive toolbox than previously.”
Future flavours of food
What, asks Bompas, are the creative implications of that toolbox?
“I’m obsessed with fruit,” he says. “I’m told that currently there are 20,000 documented edible fruits. But it is speculated that there might be as many as four times that. What delicious things have we not tasted? And, once the shackles are off with transgenics, what delicious things could there be that we haven’t tasted? How could this help to ensure that more people have better access to better food for more of the time?”
While we’re addressing some pressing issues for the future of food, it is also fun. It’s still a really lovely night out
“What I love with this is, while we’re addressing some pressing issues for the future of food, it is also fun. It’s still a really lovely night out.”
The sybaritic quality of Bompas and Parr’s creations remains, even as they address the most serious issues of all.
The Royal Docks Flavour Rainbow
A further venture in the future of food coming soon is the Royal Docks Flavour Rainbow. It is a spectacle that will soar across Royal Victoria Dock from 15-31 October 2021.
“We are hosting a bonafide, genuine world first. This is the flavour rainbow. We have commissioned Professor Simon Werrett of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL. We got to know Simon when we’re doing the flavour fireworks for London. He has expertise in the history of Russian science, among other things, and his great passion is fireworks. He says that without fireworks, much of science wouldn’t have happened.”
“Rulers, states and potentates invested in sciences. They wanted pyrotechnics to impress their populaces and their friends at parties. And they also wanted more powerful explosives if in case of battle. It meant that the scientists then were given the funding for research.
“Simon put us on to artificial rainbows; we then worked out ways in which to use some of the flavour dosing technology that we know about to make rainbows that you can actually taste. We’re making one in Royal Docks.”
A magical experience
The creative directors for the project are the pupils attending the local Newham schools:
“We’re working with the schools to imagine what Royal docks’ icons would smell and taste like if they were edible, and what rainbows taste like. We’ll then go away with that as our brief, to create rainbows you can taste underneath the Silvertown flyover. This is one of Europe Europe’s first flyovers. It is a masterpiece of brutalist architecture.
“We’re hoping that everyone will find it as magical as we do if there’s a flavour rainbow beneath it.”