Marvel at the playful and mischievous books behind Bompas & Parr’s spectacular culinary events

From Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes to books detailing mother and son car-jacking workshops, Sam Bompas talks us through five influential titles from his bookshelf.

8 April 2020

Today’s Bookshelf is a little different. It comes from the eponymous founder of spectacular culinary events company and studio, Bompas & Parr, and the man himself is Sam Bompas, who finds himself in an unusual situation that I’m sure many of us can relate to at this moment in time – isolating in our parents’ house. Miles away from his own library and the extension collection (of public) Bompas & Parr books, today, Sam brings us a unique collection of books from his childhood.

Never fear dear readers! Though we are missing out on titles currently in lockdown such as Slim While You Sleep, The Champagne Diet or What Would Jesus Eat, instead, we get a sneak peak into the influential titles that helped create the whacky venture that we know and love Bompas & Parr to be today. We’ve got a childhood cookbook and an array of other wonderful works that are just as intriguing and thought-provoking in the eyes of an adult.

“Books play a crucial role in the Bompas & Parr creative process,” he tells It’s Nice That on the selection. “I’d take the physical over the digital every time and am interested in ideas of libraries as networks of information wired to your brain.” It’s this kind of thinking which has enabled the company to rethink hand sanitiser for an upcoming exhibition, and create its latest book Fluid Landscapes, which was borne entirely out of book research. “It looks at the behavioural and creative implications of the mid, and post-Coronavirus environment,” adds Sam on the topical project that you can view here. And so, with his fingers in many pies while working remotely from his parent’s house, here’s Sam’s Bookshelf.

Roald Dahl: Revolting Recipes with illustrations by Quentin Blake 

As a child, Roald Dahl’s cookbook Revolting Recipes was awesomely inspiring. It’s loaded with Quentin Blake’s illustrations and recipes for stick-jaw toffee, lickable wallpaper and a Mr Twit beard made of chips. 

This was my first cookbook and illustrated just how playful, mischievous and engaging food could be. Over the years at Bompas & Parr, we’ve managed to build a bonafide chocolate waterfall flowing at 12,000 litres per hour and create flavour changing chewing gum with over 40,000 potential flavour, made with guidance from Niki Segnit, author of the mighty Flavour Thesaurus

The notorious highlight to date, has be working with Roald Dahl’s wonderful estate and the theatre company Les Enfants Terrible on Odious Ale, a beer fermented with detritus found down the back of Dahl’s writing chair. This occasion was accompanied by an immersive theatrical production in the form of Dinner at the Twits’, which walked the line of danger balancing between delight and disgust. We ended up serving the beer to the author’s family on the 100th anniversary of his birth; probably the most daunting but epic moment of my life. 

Machine Project: The Platinum Collection (Live by Special Request) edited by Mark Allen and Rachel Seligman

Machine Project is my favourite cultural institution I’ve never visited. The LA-based arts and project space, founded by creative impresario Mark Allen, ran from 2003 to 2018 and hosted the most anarchic and brilliant shows, workshops and weirdness. This ranged from mother/son car-jacking workshops, to spears and beers parties and Feel the Churn, a butter making aerobics class. 

Machine freely gives away their methodology on their excellent website with several informative downloadable publications. If you really want to study Machine’s oblique methodology, The Platinum Collection holds the key. There are exercises on reading works of art with your eyes closed and a graph of the relative frequencies between the uses of the words pie, pizza, burrito, taco and pancake mentioned in Machine Project emails between 2003 and 2006. I wish I’d been able to hit up the space before it closed in 2018. But the spirt of the endeavour burns on in the wild DIY creative happenings in front rooms across the world due to Covid-19.

Bronson Van Wyck: Born to Party, Forced to Work

Mirror balls (like the one on the cover) are terrible but this golden book has the most punchy title. The author plans parties for Obama, New Orleans debutants and Sean Combes. 

Looking at Van Wyck’s famous events, I’m provoked with fantasies of who would attend our dinner. Frustratingly, most of our food heroes are dead but we’d love to resurrect them for the right caper. If we could revel with anyone it would be:

Ivan Day, the brilliant food historian (alive)
Vincent Price, horror actor, author and connoisseur (dead)
Josephine Baker, rights activist, spy, banana dancer (dead)
PT Barnum, showman, mermaid importer (dead)
Aleister Crowley, mountaineer, occultist, mixologist (dead)

The handiest thing you’ll learn from the book for your home events is Van Wyck’s 20 Minute Rul. Every 20 minutes something a little out of the ordinary has to happen – enter the miniature goat with saddle-bag shot-bar, kill all the lights and feign a (momentary) power cut, reveal a hidden room filled with glowing jellies or have some mermen mixologists parade in. Just give them something to talk about every 20 minutes. 

The book of Images: Dictionary of visual experiences from A to Z edited by Stafano Stoll, forward by Erik Kessels 

This is a stroll through a landscape of astonishing images displayed in remarkable contexts at the Images Vevey. Every other year since 2008, a small town on the shore of Lake Geneva becomes an open-air museum for great photography shown in strange and wonderful spots, rooftops, the bottom of  lakes, in vaults and wine cellars. Here is photography as zesty as it wants to be. 

When scouring books for ideas, I fold the corners down of pages that contain a great concept. Coming back to the book, it’s easier to find what delighted you in the first place. This book has almost every other page folded down.  

Peter Jelavich: Berlin Cabaret

We go for deep historical research in order to develop future-forward events. The things that delighted humans 400 years ago (animals, exotic fruit, nudity with plausible deniability), continue to give considerable pleasure. 

This is why when planning a project or installation, we’ll study the best examples from yesteryear for insights and guidance. Through 2019, as Brexit loomed, we researched other periods of political turmoil and economic uncertainty… to see what we could learn about their nightlife. The sybaritic last days of Rome, Weimar Berlin and then… Brexit London.

Peter Jelavich gives an academic but eminently readable appraisal of Berlin’s cabarets from 1901 until the Nazi regime brought the curtain down. You learn about the fads, fashions, sexual moves, political ideologies and how they were all satirised from the stage. If you’d like some more lurid details, try Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Here’s a telling concoction to wash it down:

C-and-E Cocktail

“This unseemly cocktail is from Anita Berber, the dancer, sybarite and succubus who grew to be an icon of Weimar Berlin. The Golden Twenties was an age of decadence, libertarianism, enlightenment and erotic candour for Berlin, then considered to be a place for sexual adventure of all colours. Macro-economic, social and political forces contributed to an estimated 120,000 female and 35,000 male prostitutes working in the city. Meanwhile, alternative forms of mystical sexuality was explored through arcane erotic rituals, sex magic and occult organizations such as the Fraternitas Saturni or the Ordo Templi Orientis. It took a lot to shock. 

Anita Berber, the glamorous and tragic personality and author of this drink was able to do this with style and panache. She was known to make midnight entrances wearing only heels, an alarmed pet monkey hanging about her neck and a fine silver broach filled with cocaine. 

The drink mixes chloroform, ether and white rose petals. Berber consumed it for breakfast. Tread with care.  

1 part chloroform 
1 part ether
White roses
Swirl the white roses in the potion then bite off the frozen petals. 

NOTE: Ether is a strong polarising agent (though Crowley was successful with it in cocktails) and chloroform has a relatively small margin for error. As such, great care should be taken when exploring this drink. Novices are advised to dilute and only consume minute amounts on first go. Don’t dice with this drink.”

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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