A building in central London flooded with four tonnes of fruit punch, a giant chocolate climbing wall in Alton Towers, cake-inspired crazy golf atop of the roof of one of the nation’s most famed department stores – who is responsible for this food-based debauchery? And if you’re saying Willy Wonka, think again.
The answer is Bompas & Parr. Describing themselves as “jelly mongers” or “architectural foodsmiths”, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr form the intersection between art, architecture and food with their preposterously outlandish installations and events.
Nothing is too big, too difficult or too over-the-top. Their most recent installation attests to this, as they take on yet another national gem, Kew Gardens.
The concept is Tutti Frutti and the canvas is the pond in front of Kew’s 19th century palm house. The duo have cut no corners in their execution – imagining the pond into a floating fruit salad of enormous proportions, with a giant pineapple island and sensory-engaging banana grotto, all on top of the pond dyed a distinctive azure blue.
We are greeted by Kate, the event supervisor, with an attitude almost as bright as her outfit created by menswear designer Kit Neale: a team of shirts, trousers, smocks and raincoats bursting with colourful fruits, all of which taken from Kew’s very own archives.
We choose a canoe named Lady Finger (more commonly known as the fruit okra) and set sail – the sheer beauty of the ecological landscape and the eccentric adventure of the installation inciting an acute sense of childish wonder.
We head for the great pineapple structure, a marvel to look at, the acid-toned kaleidoscopic spectacles we are given makes it come alive – becoming a moving still from a psychedelic encounter right in front of our eyes.
But why choose the pineapple, out of all the bromeliads? Sam Bompas explains, ‘Kew has a fantastically extensive and inspiring bromeliad collection. The pineapple…was long seen as the king of fruits – a lush and tropical treat combining the bounty of strawberries with an exotic citrus tang. The fruits were once so rare and wondrous that they would change hands for fortunes. Hostesses would rent them by the hour for dinner parties to impress snobs and rivals.’
A banana-scented mist billows from the opening of the grotto and we go inside; it is mystical and peaceful as the banana mist takes over and banana ornaments dangle down, the music plays a soft sweet collection of sounds like the drip of rain on a tin roof.
Though the grandeur of the installation is hugely awe-inspiring and impressive, their remarkable attention to detail is something that makes my heart pitter-patter – the banana yellow till and bespoke fruit art in the ticket hut, the fruitified naming of the colourful boats and canoes and the Tutti Frutti personalities of the staff themselves.
At the heart of all of Bompas & Parr’s incredible creations is a desire to incite thoughtfulness about food: how it grows, how we present it and how we consume it.
Sam speaks of this partnership, ‘to collaborate with (Kew) makes complete sense for us – their concern with the world’s plant life directly provides us with our raw materials of creativity. Our design process always starts with a raw ingredient – be it fruit, alcohol, chocolate, or coffee. Trace any ingredient back far enough and you get to plants.’
As a menu designer, these questions are not far from my mind on a regular basis, but in our super-speed society where the fastest food option is most of the time chosen over the best, a giant pineapple on one of the country’s most treasured outdoor areas cannot present unworthy symbol.