How we met: Sam Bompas & Harry Parr
'We decided that jelly was the future and how we were going to make our fortune'
Sunday 25 September 2011
Sam Bompas, 28
An 'architectural foodsmith', Bompas (left in picture) is co-founder of Bompas & Parr, whose outlandish jelly creations – including a banquet filled with jelly skyscrapers – have reawakened interest in the possibilities of jelly. He lives in south London
We were both put in the same orchestra at Eton when we were 13. It wasn't a terribly good one; he played the cello, I played the violin, we both played badly. We cook better then we play. I remember five years later when Harry gave a talk at a school assembly in front of 500 people. Normally, it's a tedious experience but he stood up and was very rude and funny about the new Tate Modern, at a time when it was considered to be racy, innovative architecture. I thought it was rather brave going against the grain and it made a deep impression.
We stayed in touch after we left school – and through university, where Harry studied architecture – and in his final year we decided to start a business together. Harry would often have these dinner parties and at one he made all these elaborate curries. But it was the dessert that wowed everyone: a simple, fresh- fruit, blackberry jelly. So when we sat down together, that was what we put our finger on – jelly was the future and what we were going to make our fortune on.
Our best ideas come out of Harry and I having a massive argument. I hate what Harry comes out with and he thinks half of what I say is rubbish, but what we get at the end is better then anything either of us could come up with on our own: getting all the world's top architects to make jellies, or making a gin-and-tonic cloud that people could walk inside of and became intoxicated.
We have very different sensibilities. I'm more narrative based; for me it's about the stories we tell, and asking, "Will people be excited by what we create?" While Harry looks at the process, the technical elements.
When, a couple of months ago, we flooded the roof of Selfridges to make a rooftop bar with a lake, I was coming out with the reasoning why people were going to visit, while Harry was working with three separate engineers to make sure we didn't destroy Selfridges.
For us, there's no separation between life and work – it's a glorified hobby that's reached all-consuming proportions with our girlfriends and all our friends sucked in. Recently, my parents booked me a table at [Heston Blumenthal's restaurant] The Fat Duck, but the difficulty was to decide who to go with, Harry or my girlfriend. There was a lot of negotiation, but in the end I took my girlfriend on the basis that my life would be a lot easier.
Harry Parr, 28
Co-founder of jellymongers Bompas & Parr, Parr also lives in south London
We met at school, when we were in orchestra together. It was the 1990s so we were both into drum and bass, and during school holidays we started going out to clubs in London; we had a lot of fun.
After university we ended up living not far from one another in London, so we would see each other around. We started the jelly company for a bit of fun. We both felt there was something magical about jelly, and we thought it might help us get a stall at Borough Market – which we were wrong about. But we were right that there was something special about jelly. At school it was a good friendship, but we were not that close. Working together and having a shared company really threw us together.
Putting the skills I'd learnt from my architecture course to bizarre use I worked out how to make jelly moulds by rapid prototyping [designing and constructing 3D objects] the shapes to create the jelly moulds. The big game-changing event was our jelly banquet. Sam spent weeks trying to persuade architects such as Richard Rogers and Lord [Norman] Foster to design moulds based on their buildings. It was quite silly on the face of it, but Sam managed to get very credible people involved and it all came through.
We're quite different characters. He talks a lot; you know when he's in the room as he's incredibly energetic and enthusiastic. I'm much more low key. Sam's more of a fantasist while I'm more into how to build something to achieve an idea. Incredibly, even the most unworkable ideas he's had, we've done: such as the alcoholic cloud of gin and tonic. Initially, I had no idea how it could work, until I found a doctor who deals in extreme environments and we worked out how to use humidifiers.
Sam's always thinking ahead on to the next project, while I'm more interested in what's going on now. But while we both go about work in different ways, we have the same goal. A few years ago we wrote down on a scrap of paper what our ultimate goals were and we both wrote the same thing: "Global food domination".
For more on Bompas & Parr, see jellymongers.co.uk
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