It's hard to name exactly what British culinary duo/modern-day Willy Wonkas Sam Bompas and Harry Parr create. Once upon a time, it was just jello molds, or as they call them, "jellys." Now, as they amp things up with explosions and theater, "culinary spectacle" might be more accurate. In their latest book, they go with "feasts": Feasting with Bompas & Parr: Powerful Recipes & Savage Tales of Food for Feasting covers the hows and whats and whys of Bompas and Parr's feasts. It's a little bit tiki, a little bit Carême, and a little bit Salvador Dalí's Les Diners de Gala. It is, they write, "not so much a cookbook but an adventure story that happens to be true."
The book contains essays on the importance of spectacle, on what servers should wear, on how to build a tower of champagne glasses (and why one should do so). There are suggestions for plating spiced almonds: "Why not hide a picture of a semi-naked girl under the pile of nuts like you get behind packs of pub peanuts?" Safety tips for using explosives: "Someone losing a limb at dinner is always a bummer." An argument for ending the meal with a pineapple studded with lit cigarettes: "People like something to regret the next day — a smoke isn't as bad as a pregnancy."
There are multiple recipes that call for ether, and one meringue recipe that "makes enough meringues for 33,000 people and uses a quarter of a tonne of caster sugar and the same amount of icing sugar." (There's also a scaled down version for 20 people.) There is a recipe for glitter ham. And since Bompas & Parr are most well known for their jellys, there are tons of ways to play with gelatin, including a gigantic trifle with absinthe jello and ether custard.
Feasting achieves something that American chefs can't really seem to get the hang of in their cookbooks, but British and Canadian chefs manage to pull off from time to time: this book is fun. Are you going to make glitter ham at home? Maybe, but probably not. Feasting at least lets you imagine you might, which is something you see in books like Martin Picard's Sugar Shack or — if you're less into foie gras-fueled bravado and more into molecular whimsy — Heston Blumenthal's Big Fat Duck Cookbook. And while American chefs like Le Pigeon's Gabriel Rucker and Smoke's Tim Byres have released cookbooks that approach this style — project-based recipes on a grander scale than you usually see in America's easy weeknight dinners cookbook market — there will always be room for more fantasies. Bring them on.
Feasting with Bompas & Parr: Powerful Recipes & Savage Tales of Food for Feasting comes out from Pavillion on November 23 in the UK (pre-order on Amazon) and December 1 in the US (pre-order on Amazon).
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