Back in 2014, British event wizards Bompas & Parr, often dubbed London's Willy Wonkas, came to the Museum of Sex to create a sexy carnival (their bounce house of breasts remains, if you need a reminder). Now they’re back to do what they’re known for: put on a food event that’s almost beyond imagining, like a dirt banquet in a London sewer or the musical sausage in Thailand.
“One of the things we try to do is not to say no to anything and try to explore down every avenue of possibility to see where it leads,” says Harry Parr of their creative process."
For their newest adventurer, Bompas & Parr are curating a six-night “multi-sensorial culinary journey” called Le Savoir to explore the flavors of Stella Artois, the Belgian lager. The dinner pairing begins on Aug. 17 and in addition to the most unusual garden you’ve ever been in, there will be performances by Cirque du Soleil’s 45 Degrees. Tickets start at $70 through Gilt and are going fast.
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If you’re not content to just show up and let the magic happen, Parr gave us the details.
More fun than liquor
Bompas & Parr are known for their work with liquor brands, having vaporized cocktails for a cloud bar and boozy Jell-O recreations of London’s famous buildings. This is the first time they’ve worked with a lager, though Parr says it wasn’t entirely new territory. “With liquor brands, particularly whiskey, they have similar ingredients to beer, so it all starts off as the same thing but then they have different things done to them,” he points out.
But beer has one big advantage: ABV. “When you’re pairing food with a drink, it’s nice to be able to consume a reasonable amount of the actual liquid so you can try lots of different flavor combinations.”
The four seasons of beer
“This journey starts with look at raw ingredients and the cycle of nature,” explains Parr. Le Savoir is set in a forgotten greenhouse where guests will be taken through the four seasons. In winter, the air is chilled to 3 degrees Celsius, which is the ideal temperature for serving Stella. “We’re showing that there is a cycle and season to making the beer and at first, there’s nothing growing, so it’s a very minimal space, then things start to get awakened.”
The sit-down portion of the meal — though there will be tasting moments all night — occurs during summer to highlight complementary flavors. “Then in autumn, what you find is some of the richer flavors so the beer can cut through and pair with them in quite unexpected ways.”
Finding hidden flavors
Beer isn’t usually praised for its complexity in the way, say, whiskey is, but Parr says that’s just because we haven’t been looking for it. “We’re showing people there are all sorts of hidden flavors to unlock if you want to find them,” he says. In the reception area, guests will be greeted with non-alcoholic sodas made with roasted barley, one of the four ingredients in Stella, to show that “when you take the raw ingredients, the skill of the brewmaster actually creates more than the sum of its parts.”
Using fantasy to highlight reality
“When we design events, we like to create a sequence of spaces that people move between,” says Parr. “The reason for doing that is you want to transform people from a world where they’re familiar with, and take them to a place where you start to show them things they didn’t know.” Like foraging for vegetables in dirt, made from the same ingredients that go into the beer. Pick a cherry tomato from the vine — pick more than one — because they are injected with various flavors, including strawberries.
“Stella Artois shares one of the same flavor molecules with strawberries, so they have this crossover of flavors that you wouldn’t expect,” he says. “It’s a bit like teaching people to appreciate a fine wine, but you have all those interesting flavors within a beer, you just have to open your mind to it.”