Meet the Tastemakers
It started with jelly. In 2007, childhood friends Sam Bompas and Harry Parr were inspired to reevaluate traditional British foods and flavors, especially those that time had forgotten. Combining their expertise in PR, real estate and architecture (just wait), Sam and Harry launched Jellymongers, a bespoke jelly company creating custom molds and flavors. It wasn’t long before the pair were crafting everything from a jelly replica of Buckingham Palace to a Willy Wonka–style gum that changes flavor as it’s chewed.
As more organizations reached out to the duo to provide wild food experiences for events and activations, Jellymongers evolved into Bompas & Parr, an experience design and creative studio of artists, architects, chefs, designers and strategists.
“Invariably, we’re feeding people,” says Sam. “From the start, I’m thinking, how can we make this experience delicious? Welcoming? Celebratory? This is the higher purpose of food beyond the basis of nutrition. Because food is basically a leisure activity, it’s important to make it joyful.”
These are the qualities that define the Tastemakers.
From chefs and entrepreneurs to jellymongers and musical-licking performance artists, the Tastemakers feed minds and stomachs, have an appetite for knowledge, and cook up experiences that both inspire and create joy. These culinary maestros transform a meal into an ethereal experience — altering our senses, activating our memories and deepening our connections with one another.
XLIST 2023: The Tastemakers
When did food and drink become a part of the experiential conversation? Culinary experiences have evolved past warm beer and sad hot dogs at baseball stadiums and theme parks. But, every culinary experience — from struggling to balance a drink between your knees at a Yankees game to white-glove service at a fine dining restaurant — is experiential.
“Being a guest at a meal is a performance in its own right,” says Sam. “When you have the form of a meal, you can create experiences on top of it. People are already familiar with the rituals and etiquette, which empowers them to explore.”
Nicolas “Nico” Fonseca, aka Mr. Jaune, also hosts interactive dinners as opportunities for exploration.
The Montréal-based filmmaker creates delicious interactive experiences that focus on the senses, both on his own and as C2 Montréal’s creative director.
“I started out in film and TV. That translated into nonlinear storytelling, and I was hooked on the performative aspect of narratives,” says Nico. “I’ve always been into food. I was hosting supper parties for 20 or 30 friends. Then, people I didn’t know started showing up. At the same time, I was getting into immersive art, and food just became one of the mediums.”
One seminal project Nico still hosts, In The Mouth, actually began as a film script. After becoming disenchanted with the original project, Nico reworked the story into an immersive dining experience. Eventually, the dinner evolved enough to remove most of the original narration, which was the story of a chef who lost his sense of taste. Now, only the concept remains. Each dinner is designed using information collected from the guests’ personal histories, so everyone at the table must talk to each other to know exactly what they’re eating.
“I wanted to come up with an event where you could make new friends,” says Nico. “All of a sudden, with In The Mouth, you have strangers talking about what their moms made for them when they came home from school every day. And they don’t even know each other’s first names, but they’re revealing that they grew up poor and the food on the table was whatever was on sale that week.”
This sense of community building through the senses, memory and nostalgia is at the core of the Tastemakers’ work. Like food-focused therapists, these creators seem to always be asking, “How does that make you feel?”
Food is an incredible medium not just for community, but for play.
Emilie Baltz has always had a passion for all things culinary — she even wrote her master’s thesis about why Americans eat what they eat — but it’s her work at the intersection of food and technology that has earned her awards and accolades. From the “Flavor Factory” exploring out- there concepts like furry ice cream and slimy popsicles to “EAT TECH KITCHEN” with its AI-powered “chefbot” concocting recipes based on human emotions, Emilie’s work is all about exploring culinary boundaries through play.
“I’m developing new ways to interact with technology. My Lickable Ice Cream Orchestra and Cotton Candy Theremin are hints of that,” says Emilie. “Those are playful entertainment, but how could some of those insights then be further applied to the built environment, in general? How can we start to communicate beyond ourselves, but without just looking at screens?”
Today, she’s all about developing new olfactive interfaces. Scent is a powerful interface for storytelling (so powerful, in fact, a new study shows being exposed to different smells could help improve learning and memory) and can be implemented using digital technology to create more human-like experiences.
“I’m interested in taking experiences and knowledge from food and applying them to more human exchanges,” says Emilie. “Digital technology, as a medium of connection and human relationships, is hyper two-dimensional. So, how can we get ourselves more in our bodies, more in the pleasure of that tension? Because that’s the condition of being here on this planet.”
From the nostalgic and sometimes silly to the upscale and world-building, culinary experiences are as diverse as the people creating them.
“Like Oliver Sacks, the world’s best neurologist, famously said, ‘We’re not given our world. We make our world,’” says Emilie. “So, how does our work create meaning in peoples’ lives?” One bite at a time.
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