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Bompas & Parr Food Gallery | © Meredith Whitely
Bompas & Parr Food Gallery | © Meredith Whitely
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Food As Art: Eating With The Eyes And The Mouth

Picture of Meredith Whitely
Updated: 28 November 2016
Food in art is not a new phenomenon. In fact, there is evidence of cavemen depicting food in their wall-painted scenes, as shown in Gillian Riley’s book, Food in Art: From Prehistory to the Renaissance. However, as attested by the rise of Instagram, food itself as art is becoming a more commonplace part of our modern-day food scene.

Japanese Tradition: Multi-Course Beauty

Food that appeals to the eye and the mouth is not a new concept. Japanese cuisine has long recognised the appeal of food that looks beautiful and is constructed with care. This is food presented with such deliberate precision that it could be considered as a work of art. A myriad of small dishes covering different ingredients, colours and tastes are all part of the traditional multi-course kaiseki meals of Japan – and they certainly are a sight to behold. These days, you can even find cookery classes dedicated to constructing pretty bento boxes.

Kaiseki 'Hassun' at KAI Tsugaru in Owani, Aomori prefecture, Japan | © 663highland / WikiCommons
Kaiseki ‘Hassun’ at KAI Tsugaru in Owani, Aomori prefecture, Japan | © 663highland / WikiCommons

The Michelin-Starred Chefs: Influence of Molecular Gastronomy

The names Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck are synonymous with the area of molecular gastronomy. This movement took food beyond being just about ingredients presented on a plate. Suddenly all the senses were engaged, and food became about entertainment, as well as taste. Ferran Adria’s El Bulli book was as much a piece of art (possibly even more) as it was a cookery book. Adria and Blumenthal even joined together with other key names in food to develop The International Agenda for Great Cooking in 2006. In their manifesto, they clearly stated: ‘The act of eating engages all the senses as well as the mind. Preparing and serving food could, therefore, be the most complex and comprehensive of the performing arts’.

Ferran Adrià exhibit at Palau Robert, Barcelona. 2012 | © Kippelboy / WikiCommons
Ferran Adrià exhibit at Palau Robert, Barcelona. 2012 | © Kippelboy / WikiCommons

The Social Media Stars: YouTube and Instagram Hits

But it’s not all serious work: food art can be fun. On Instagram, you’ll find almost 1.4 million uses of the hashtag ‘foodart’. For cute Japanese-influenced cartoonish food creations, Instagram mum @bentomonsters posts characters created from rice and much more. In contrast, @gourmetartistry features simple white plates that pop with stunning colours and immaculate arrangements of ingredients that look almost too good to eat.

Looking beyond photos, animated food is also a big hit on YouTube. Even the guys at the ever popular SORTEDfood YouTube channel went arty in one of their episodes, creating an ‘artistic’ dragon fruit salad. However, one of the biggest successes is Alexandre Dubosc and his clever animated cake shorts. They include rotating popcorn cakes (with accompanying crunchy sounds) and spinning Tim Burton-inspired creations. His videos are captivating and popular: the 90-second Melting POP video has over 2.5 million views!

The Design Studio: Bompas and Parr Jelly Structures

Food art is not just restricted to the province of those in kitchens. One of the leading UK design studios, Bompas and Parr, is spearheading a fun and quirky approach to food installations. The founding pair, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, first came to fame for their jelly structures. They still produce bespoke jelly displays with a range of seasonal flavours but have also progressed into food-based multi-sensory projects. You can still attend the Alcohol Architecture experience in London’s Borough Market, which is described as a ‘walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail’. They have also exhibited at many top art institutions, including Barbican Art Gallery in London and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Jelly version of St Paul's Cathedral in London | © Greta Ilieva / WikiCommons
Jelly version of St Paul’s Cathedral in London | © Greta Ilieva / WikiCommons

The Blogger: Painterly Inspiration With Pantone Tarts

Over the other side of the channel, Emilie Guelpa has taken a more simple, but nonetheless, beautiful approach to creating food art. Emilie is a food stylist and launched her successful blog, Girottes Palette Culinaire, in 2008. She has developed a range of stunning tarts inspired by the colours of the Pantone paint chart. This colour classification system has long been used in interior styling, but Emilie has taken specific colours as inspiration for a range of delectable coloured desserts, each matching a specific Pantone colour. There are recipes available, but the real pleasure is in viewing her beautiful photography of the colourful tarts. With over 47,000 followers on Instagram, Emilie’s popularity has continued to grow, and her blog will soon be available in English.

Pantone Switches | © Yanns / Pixabay
Pantone Switches | © Yanns / Pixabay

The Future: A Museum of Food?

Following the success of their other experiential food exhibits, Bompas and Parr launched a Museum of Food pop-up at the end of 2015. Spread over a couple of floors, this was an entire exhibition dedicated to different elements of food as art and experience. It ranged from an installation that involved watching a film about the digestive system while being pummelled by a massage chair to tasting chocolate with different sounds being played in the background. It also showcased food art photography, including photos from the quirky series, Gingerbread Art Galleries, by Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin. The pair recreated many top galleries in gingerbread and candy, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Tate Modern, capturing these creations in striking black and white photographs. Bompas and Parr are now looking for a permanent location for the museum. As New York City has also set up a Museum of Food and Drink, surely it is only a matter of time before London has its own permanent fixture.

Bompas & Parr Food Gallery | © Meredith Whitely
Bompas & Parr Food Gallery | © Meredith Whitely