Our daughter Ellen Parr – a chef - runs a company called The Art of Dining with artist and set designer Alice Hodge. They put on theme-based pop up restaurants, normally in London. Alice designs the environment and the set and Ellen creates an appropriate menu. The venues – always unusual and unexpected – have included a 16th century mansion, an eel and pie shop, the Victorian Dalston Boys Club, and the army barracks on City Road. The themes range from wartime rationing to the Food of Love. The whole experience is like eating within an interactive art installation.
A while back Ellen and Alice suggested that they try and create a meal based on my food photography. Quite a challenge as it is one of the features of my work that food is shown as you find it for real, rather than the alluring perfection normally displayed in adverts.
So six months later, I am in Tokyo and four nights of ‘Say Cheese – the photography of Martin Parr in five courses’ have just finished. On the seventh floor of an office building, you enter a typical English café setting with gingham table cloths, plastic flowers on the table, pictures of Lady Di and Mrs T, copies of the Sun and other very British items adorning the surroundings. The waiting staff are mostly English, wearing floral pinnies, and the five courses are all based on different Parr photos. But there is a twist: the food looks just like the images but tastes completely unlike what you expect. An English tea cup is filled with a tea coloured liquid, poured from a tea pot, which turns out to be a delicious Thai broth. A doughnut is actually savoury, made from lentils and served with a coconut chutney. Fish and chips are served in a Tesco bag. Lurid orange fairy cakes turn out to be moist carrot cakes served with a fragrant chai. Each course is introduced by Alice, holding up a postcard of the image. The diners take away a signed set of MP postcards showing the meal they have just eaten.
With the help of producer and entrepreneur Ivan Vatarin (fortuitously a fluent Japanese speaker) the girls managed to source the ingredients – including cod from the famous Tokyo fish market – and the four nights of the pop up sold out with Ivan’s extensive network.. Pop up restaurants are not known in Japan, so this was a difficult concept to grasp at first. But the excitement and challenge of a kind of greasy spoon theme park attracted people from across Tokyo. The food was relished and seemed to cause delight and amusement amongst the customers.
Look out for this event to be rolled out in other cities, with London as the next candidate.