Culinary wizards Bompas & Parr have found a new plaything. Moving on from the jelly moulds that made them famous, the pair have turned their hands, Wonka-style, to chewing gum.
Last week, the boys set up shop in Whiteleys, with a pop-up artisanal chewing gum factory. On arrival I'm swiftly lead to the dimly-lit Flavour Library, complete with haunting music on a loop, and scientific diagrams linking the 200 flavours on offer, from the play-it-safe strawberry and cotton candy, through the more adventurous white truffle and green pea, to the downright ludicrous curry, anchovy and hot dog.
I whiz around the aroma room, frantically opening flavour-scented jam jars in a bid to whittle down 40,000 possible combinations to my final two. Watermelon is divine, as is caramel, but they're both too predictable. Peanut jumps out of the jar, along with banana and almond, but I'm looking for something a little more playful. A mix of sweet and savoury perhaps? I strike upon what I believe to be an ingenious duo: foie gras and crème brûlée, having tasted something similar at a basque gastronomy evening the week before. It'll either be delicious or disgusting.
I write my flavour combo on a raffle ticket and hand it to the lady in a lab coat across the counter. She glances at it disapprovingly. The factory is proving so popular, punters have to wait for their numbers to be called, Bingo-style, by a bespectacled man on a megaphone. To ease my wait, I indulge in a Hendricks and tonic from a jam jar.
Finally my number's up, and I'm lead into the gum factory, a pink room lined with long wooden work benches. I'm given a gum-making tutorial by Sam Bompas himself, who dashes out the back to retrieve my flavours. He returns with a vial full of caramel coloured liquid, which I'm told to squirt on my clear gum base and then stir furiously. Icing sugar and citric acid is then added, and more stirring ensues.
'Would you like to add a colour?' Bompas enthuses. 'Why not make it bright green?', he suggests, squirting a few drops of green food colouring into the mixture. I stir it furiously, until it's the texture of Play Doh, then pick it up, douse it with icing sugar and roll it into small gum balls. Impatient, I pop one in my mouth, fearful of what I'm about to chew. Luckily, the crème brûlée dominates and it's surprisingly tasty.
The foie gras is definitely in there, but it's the custard-like, vanilla backbone that lingers. I finish rolling my pea green gum balls and pop them into a tiny white Bompas & Parr box. For their next trick the boys want to go one further and create a gum that changes flavour mid-chew, from savoury to sweet, recreating the Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum Violet Beauregarde has the misfortune of eating when still in the testing phase in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turning her into a giant blueberry. Wonka would be proud.