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The curious future of food: Expo 2020 Dubai

UK-based design studio Bompas & Parr has cooked up a multi-sensory pioneering culinary experience, Future of Food: Epochal Banquet, in collaboration with Expo 2020 Dubai.

The curious future of food: Expo 2020 Dubai

A pioneering culinary experience inspired by space, microbiology, artificial intelligence and hyper-intelligence will stir the senses of curious diners at Expo 2020 Dubai, in a new concept designed to challenge the future of dining.

The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet is a never-before-seen experience cooked up by UK-based multi-sensory experience design studio Bompas & Parr, in collaboration with Expo 2020. The ground-breaking foodie adventure will feature numerous world firsts, taking creativity, innovation and technology to a new level.

As Bompas & Parr prepare for their biggest show this year, the studio reflects on the importance of food as an attraction, and how over the years, food has played a crucial role in entertainment.

We start with an inspiration of Bompas & Parr – Alexis Soyer – a French chef who became famed for his generosity and entertaining cooking. He was the Jamie Oliver of his day. Soyer revolutionised the modern kitchen (championing gas cookery) while working at the Reform club, was commissioned to sort out the Irish Potato Famine with specially designed field kitchens and saved troops in the Crimea working alongside Florence Nightingale. He also wrote best selling books, manipulated the media and launched successful products like Soyer’s Nectar, a lake blue lemonade sold as a hangover cure.

A bottle that says 'anti-gin' on a blue background, by Bompas & Parr at Expo 2020.

Photography by Adam Laycock

His greatest adventure came during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Soyer, the leading celebrity chef was offered exclusive rights to the catering for the Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park. He refused as influence from the temperance movement meant that alcohol was not allowed to be served with meals. Soyer didn’t think you could have a civilised meal without booze. The contract went to Schweppes and a fortune based on carbonated (non-alcoholic) beverages was founded.

Soyer chose instead to create his own Great Exhibition of food at Gore House at the side of Hyde Park. He ambitiously called it Soyer’s Universal Symposium of all Nations and it was effectively a food and drink themed Disneyland. It included an ice cave with stalactites of real ice that had to be shipped in daily (at the time there was no refrigeration) alongside taxidermy snow foxes; a medieval banqueting hall; a weather chamber where arcs of electricity fizzed across the ceiling imitating sheet lighting and a grotto that you had to plunge through a waterfall to reach. Entrance to the grotto was free but you’d get wet unless you hired one of Soyer’s umbrella for two pence or his small umbrellas with holes in for one pence.

A gold bowl of food next to a fork and spoon, by Bompas & Parr at Expo 2020

The Symposium, though spectacular, was hugely overambitious and ended amidst massive financial complications. It did however bring mixed drinks and cocktails to the attention of London society. One of the few lucrative elements was the Washington bar attached to the Symposium. The blades of society could set into over 40 beverages which included some of Soyer’s own inventions like the Soyer au Champagne.

Soyer’s approach to food as entertainment has been brought around 360 to this year’s World Expo, taking place in Dubai, this time, in the hands of the Bompas & Parr studio.

Diners will have the opportunity to taste super-light delicacies formed using the same technique that NASA uses to collect comet dust; edible creations that glow in the dark; flavour-changing desserts; ultra-rare ingredients, including new-to-the-plate plants and much more.

Bright yellow bowl of ramen with green leaves poking out of it and a pink drink by Bompas & Parr

The immersive experience is inspired by the ‘Novacene’, a new era hypothesised by eminent 102-year-old scientist and inventor James Lovelock. The new age, he prophesises, will take over the ‘Anthropocene’ era, in which humans have been able to make large-scale changes to the planetary environment, and introduce a future where robots and artificial intelligence will rule.

The curated experience features a multi-course exploratory menu, designed to entertain and inspire, while exploring important themes involving the future of food, including how humans and artificial intelligence can combine to sustainably feed a growing global population and tackle food waste, as well as the implications for future nutrition.

Jelly and deserts by Bompas & Parr

Just as Alexis Soyer brought ice caves to the table at his Universal Symposium of all Nations, Bompas & Parr bring flavour changing desserts and glow in the dark creations to Expo 2020. What we do know for our future, is that food is essential in living a better life, with socialising being at the heart of this. Food brings people together through delicious taste and theatrical experiences. In the imminent future, Bompas & Parr predict that you will see more food and drink becoming focal attractions, taking centre stage in planned days out with friends. Food is comforting yet provoking. It is extraordinary. And this year, it is set to transport diners into the future and back again at Dubai Expo with Bompas & Parr.

Expo 202 Expo 2020 runs until 31 March 2022.

Alix Cherowbrier is senior creative strategist at Bompas & Parr.


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