“When you give someone the third-best day of their life, it’s quite an achievement”
Sam Bompas is co-founder of Bompas & Parr, a design and creative studio that uses food and drink to create world-leading flavour-based experiences.
Where do you go to think?
The bath. It’s a fertile thinking ground for me, with bookshelves installed above it with countless culinary tomes, but also masterworks from other genres – alchemy, pyrotechnics, magical protocols, World Fairs. They’re all totally ruined from being dropped in the water, but I see books as tools to shepherd ideas, rather than precious objects.
What are the everyday pleasures that you can’t live without?
Lurid and exotic fruits. I’m obsessed with discovering new ones. I can say that this is pretty much an everyday occurrence because I live in London and there are communities from all over the world here. Walk into, say the Wing Yip Oriental supermarket and there are countless foods about which I have no idea. In a Caribbean shop, you might find Jamaican star apple, a very powerfully purple fruit that is said to be very good for men’s sexual health. That’s what the shop assistant told me, anyway.
What’s the best thing you’ve done for someone else?
Last year, for a launch party of a project we worked on, we made a giant tub of slime. A seven-year-old boy came to the event. I found out that later he’d told his mum that had been the third-best day of his life. When you give someone the third-best day of their life, it’s quite an achievement.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
In December last year, I was in Sicily with my girlfriend, as Etna erupted with the biggest eruption for years. We decided it would be a really good idea to go up the volcano. I’d lost my luggage, so all I had was what I wore: a beautifully tailored suit. She, as a mark of solidarity, wore a designer dress. We hired hiking boots, and went up the mountain, where we performed a blood brothers ritual and drank wine. The volcano erupted mightily, which was quite incredible. At this point, the mountain rescue guys found us and just started laughing because they thought it was absurd, and had never seen anyone up at that point without a load of technical hiking gear. Great fun.
What’s the best thing you can cook?
Jelly. It’s how Bompas & Parr started out and we’ve arguably made more jellies than anyone else on the planet. A really good one is a passion fruit and Riesling jelly with a lot of passion fruit seeds set in it. With that sheen you get on jelly, it looks like the skin of a cheetah that’s just come out of the swamp.
As it erupted with the biggest eruption for years, we decided it would be a good idea to go up the volcano
How do you make yourself happy?
The process of creating. I’ve got an attention span of two hours during which I can consume stuff – go to look at a museum, reading, watching films – then after that I need to go and make something.
Name the art and/or culture that most inspires you or enriches your leisure time.
It’s books. I feel sort of depressed if I don’t buy a book a day. Whenever we initiate a project, I normally slam down a stack of eight or nine books for the team to read. Always have a book on you: if the people you are with are a bit boring, at least you can entertain yourself, and while everyone else is looking at their phone you can look at something useful.
Can you name something you’ve bought that you would never give away?
I didn’t buy it, but I had a Parker 51 pen, the body of which came from my girlfriend and the lid from my grandfather – they gave me the same pen, so I put half of each together. Then I lost it. Yes, I do have the mirror image pen, but it’s not the same.
When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised?
I’m constantly surprised by how nice people are. Last weekend, I went to one of London’s current blockbuster exhibitions. They had closed the box office, but I found I was able to bribe the guard on the door so my girlfriend and I could get in. It was wonderful.
When was the last time you made or created something?
Yesterday I worked on a sausage-based art project that’s happening in Taipei, for the British Council. We’re charting the evolutionary family tree of sausages. Germany alone has over 1,000 different varietals. Every nation on the planet has its own take on the sausage, and is very passionate about it. So I’ve been doing a lot of work on that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Giving that small boy the third-best day of his life. Made me very proud.
What do you consider humankind’s greatest achievement?
Arguably not quite humankind’s greatest achievement, but something I am obsessed with and would have loved to have attended if I was alive, is the Great Exhibition [of 1851]. In terms of creating spectacle and show, and inspiring people to have adventures, the Great Exhibition is at the nexus of all that.
Who best demonstrates, or has demonstrated, the courage of their convictions?
I love it when people risk everything to do something extraordinary. PT Barnum, the great showman, for example, staked his fortune on absurd creations, only to pull through and turn them into great success.
What song could you sing most completely right now?
Queen’s I Want to Break Free. Karaoke classic, with just enough instrumental for a little bit of exposition, some audience chat. Bring everyone together for that one last chorus.
What’s the best journey you’ve ever been on?
I had a misunderstanding with a friend in a pub in East London, where I thought she said ‘magic eye bikinis’, which I thought was a genius idea. So we spent the next three months making men’s swimming shorts that when you stare at the crotch it looks like a volcano erupting, and bikini tops that seem to have dolphins leaping out of them if you look at them right. We went to Hawaii and shot the range there. That was great fun. I still have no idea what my friend said.
If you could do one thing to change the status quo, what would it be?
Establish the British Museum of Food, to pedestal the glories and wonders of the culinary realm. It seems incredible to me that so much is invested in fine arts, opera and the like when these mediums appeal to such a small segment of the population. We have a Design Museum, yet how many people spend time thinking about what chair they are going to sit on when they come home? We are campaigning to get this off the ground in the next year. Hopefully, in 200 years time, people will think it has always been a feature on the British cultural landscape.
You have one trip in a time machine: where and when would you go?
The Jurassic era, for the fruit. Or maybe a bit later than that, to hunt down and eat woolly mammoth.
If money were no object, what would you buy?
I would pay for an iceberg to be dragged from Newfoundland to New York and then carve it up to use the ice in drinks and cocktails at the most magnificent party the world has ever seen. Doing that is actually a thousand times more energy efficient than creating the same volume of ice using conventional ice makers. We worked with a physicist and keen sailor from Cambridge University to work that out.
The photograph is of Sam Bompas, taken by Addie Chinn.