Experimental Food With The Robin Collective

Extraordinary, experimental food with The Robin Collective

Edible Terrariums, colour changing cocktails and extraordinary experimental events are just the tip of the tasty iceberg when it comes to The Robin Collective’s wacky work. TOAST chats to co-founder Brandy Klingelpuss to learn more and to get her top tips for adding some imaginative wow factor to your next do.

After just a quick peruse of The Robin Collective’s website and I feel as though I’ve left my desk and rainy window view far behind and disappeared somewhere captivatingly imaginative, magnificently colourful, and seriously fun. From Medicinal Marshmallows to edible (yes, edible) terrariums, my mind is left spinning, my face grinning and I have about million things that I want to ask co-founder Brandy Klingelpuss.

Sometimes we like taking trends that have become a bit overdone and lame, and make them better – trend hacking I guess?!” Brandy explains.

Making terrariums and cupcakes both had their time on the London food scene and we thought, why not combine them into one glorious hipster thing!”

And as their website quite rightly says - who wouldn't want to munch through a layer of coconut grass and candied rosemary, on into a base layer of moussy chocolate, ending up in a hand-made biscuit sub-layer, nibbling on a marzipan worms and meringue mushrooms on your way down?

Ice Cream Kit The Robin Collective

The Robin Collective is a small creative company based in Bow, East London who develop and create new food, experiential trends and as Brandy says – ‘just make super fun parties’. They are a collective of designers, artists, chefs, entertainers, photographers, actors and writers who orgnise imaginative and engaging events, pop-ups and promotions, from the all important idea generation through to production and event management.

Brandy, originally from Canada but a ‘proud Londoner’ since 2004, holds a BSc in Product Design and has worked freelance for clients including Lego and Bompas & Parr, which is in fact where she met Robin Collective co-founder Robin Fegan before they started working together on events along with third co-founder Elspeth Rae.

We all got on really well so we just kept going and also carried on with our freelance work at the same time - Robin writes for children’s television and I design children’s toys. Eventually we started earning the bulk of our salary through our tiny business and took on employees and now I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!” she explains.

I’ve always been an entrepreneur – my grandfather was an hotelier and then owned a dairy business in Canada. I’ve always enjoyed cooking but design was always at the forefront for me. I knew that I wanted to own my own business and Robin and I really enjoyed using food at the heart of all of our experiences and products”

Nowadays The Robin Collective are internationally considered industry leaders in the experimental food and events field and have created one-off, madcap experiences for numerous well-known brands as well as a host of private clients, all of whom have had their ‘senses confused and delighted within a unique and memorable atmosphere’. Notable names include Adidas, YSL, Glenfiddich, Pepsi Max, ITV, The Brit Awards, Bestival, The V&A, Holiday Inn and Air France, to name just a few.

We’ve also done celebrity birthdays. Robin once made an explosive birthday cake made out of cheese for a close friend, so it would turn into a big delicious melted cheese buffet after it’s big bang!” Brandy laughs. 

“We’ve also sdone weddings for people that we’ve met through projects. And hen dos! We are the best hen-doers ever!”

A recent project for Bombay Sapphire involved ‘The Grand Journey’ - a large scale, fully immersive multi-media experience that too place across Europe. Using state of the art technology, this theatrical dining and drinking experience transported guests to the origins of the famous gin’s 10 botanicals; they arrived on the platform to embark on the Laverstoke Express - a fantastical and exquisitely recreated train seating around 50 people. Large flat screens acted as windows giving surreal animated views of the Grand Journey’s ten stops, each complete with a variety of cocktails, food and live performance. 

The key to success is don’t put too much in at once – we always think our ideas are boring so we tend to think up too much for an event and have to strip it back because one concept is usually enough for people to try to take in” explains Brandy.

The Robin Collective Bombay

The Grand Journey The Robin Collective

The Robin Collective

For the launch of iconic fashion house Yves Saint Laurent’ recent Black Opium fragrance, The Robin Collective created an innovative experience that focused on the key notes of the perfume. Participants were invited to inhale flavoured vapours through a clear straw; coffee, jasmine and vanilla were all transformed into smoking vapour clouds, encased within beautiful glass vials and displayed on tall black perspex plinths. The concept proved so popular it was then rolled out to the YSL fragrance counters at Selfridges & Debenhams.

Some ideas just happen by accident, that lightbulb moment happens and I ring Robin really excited with some lame story leading to a fun idea. Other times, which is most of the time, our colleague Binky makes us cocktails because she’s super good at them, and we sit around chatting about ideas in the studio” Brandy explains.

Sometimes clients already have a concept but no idea how to technically work it so we have to tweak it to make it a reality. Obviously money is always a factor but we have handy little things we can do for smaller budgets. Sometimes we pitch ideas and get told they are too crazy for the brand!”

Mermaid Toast The Robin Collective

The Robin Collective Collection Mixology

The Robin Collective Science

The aforementioned Edible Terrarium is just the tip of the artistic iceberg when it comes to Brandy and her team’s work; there’s also their mind-boggling Medicinal Marshmallows, their fabulous looking (and tasting) Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream and their Bizarregarita – a colour changing cocktail, officially launched at The Experimental Food Society Spectacular in 2011, which curious guests can actually mix themselves, before drinking them of course.

“We try all our ideas ourselves. Our opinions differ quite a bit as I just tend to smoosh things together and hope for the best, where as our team is quite precise about how they go about experimenting” Brandy explains.

I’m one of those annoying people where I just throw ingredients together in an oven and it will probably turn out pretty great, but some things don’t go so well – we’ve been working on a recipe for hot ice cream - ice cream that melts when cold and is hard when hot - but it always comes out too bitty or slimy so hey ho!” she laughs                    

When the team aren’t busy working on events or coming up with new ideas (aka drinking cocktails in the studio), The Robin Collective also run a number of kooky culinary workshops designed to ‘inspire the brain cells and delight the senses’. Perfect for private parties, hen dos, corporate team building, festivals, and PR events, these workshops are completely unique, hugely fun and immensely delicious.

The ‘Foodie Beauty’ workshop involves making your own scrumptious scrubs and munch-able face masks before indulging in an inhalable cucumber gin cloud, groups can also make their own Edible Terrariums (which we learnt about earlier), the supposedly ‘ancient art’ of marshmallowing and then there is the infamous ‘House of Toast’ where teams come together for bread-based building battles, toasty trivia and plenty of music. 

I really wanted to do something with blenders or microwaves but combining that with drinks is a bit tricky as we don’t want our guests to hurt themselves! So we made a list of all household kitchen items we could play with and toasters won, simply because everybody loves toast. Even coeliacs love toast. My cat loves toast! Then if you get people to build stuff out of stuff they love, they go bonkers for it” enthuses Brandy.

“It’s a good pliable material and since people love eating it, it makes for a good night of snacks and building. You can also win one of our butter glue sticks for easy application, and we’ve even made toast angels on the floor with all the crumbs!”

TOAST The Robin Collective

The Robin Collective Marshmallow Mixing

The Robin Collective Molecular Innovation

As well as being a totally bonkers and brilliant party activity, The Robin Collective also host a regular House of Toast competition at Drink Shop Do in Kings Cross, which anyone can attend. Each team of up to ten people gets a toaster, two loaves of bread and a pot of toothpicks and they have an hour to battle it out and build the best thing they possibly can, whether it’s the Taj Mahal or la tour Eiffel, all in the hope of winning the Golden Toast Trophy.

Our other workshops, like Extreme Garnishing, happen occasionally when we aren’t travelling, but you can also hire us for hen dos and private parties” says Brandy.

When it comes to the most popular I would say it’s definitely a tie between our Molecular Cocktailing workshop and Extreme Garnishing - people love knowing our little cookery and drink tips and it’s great that we can share our ideas with our fans

Aside from creating all their foodie fun and games, The Robin Collective are serious about just how they go about doing their business. Despite the experimental and immersive food industry becoming more and more populated Brandy does not see this as a problem, and they actively encourage and use young artists from all disciplines in order to give them early industry recognition.

Originally we wanted to just expand our own portfolios and be able to support ourselves but have a bit of a laugh doing it, but now we try to create fair business for those who are new to industry, as creatives are often expected to work for free or for exposure. We try to ensure that all our staff get the same level of respect as we do as directors - after all they’re putting in the same hours, if not more!” she explains.

A lot of our competition are friends so we share the work really, plus good ideas are good ideas…so it’s amazing to see others doing creative things to keep the fun going. I keep inspired by attending other events, and by visiting my family in Canada” she adds.

“There is a mecca of weird stuff going down in the back woods of Canada so I do bring back a lot of inspiration from there. I mean my hometown used to have a festival dedicated to pickles where houses and businesses would sell their own batches from kiddie pools and dress up and dance as gherkins. It’s stuff like that that keeps Robin Collective stocked with great ideas!”

And speaking of great ideas – I wonder what on earth could be next on The Robin Collective’s radical radar? 

“We’re working on our biggest product production project to date for Onken at the moment - yoghurt lovers can log on to the site and create their own flavour, we make it and then send it off in their own branded pot! They’re a really lovely bunch of people so we’re happy to be YOUgurting for the next couple of months” Brandy enthuses. 

When it comes to trends I think that VR is really trying to get there, but I’ve never been completely convinced. We’ve had the whole wave of American dirty food and street food and we’re now riding the vegan wave. I think the next thing will be in confectionery again…cakes can be lame but are so delicious!” she laughs 

The dream would be a boozy and cakey project – maybe like Chambord and Cadbury’s doing a joint thing – on an island that you boat to with peacocks. Maybe throw in some Skee-ball, a picnic and you’d have me on cloud 9!”

We’ll see what we can do Brandy. In the meantime, if you fancy making your very own towering toast creation then The Robin Collective’s next House of Toast event is on Thursday 5th October at Drink Shop Do in King’s Cross – tickets are available from Design My Night. But before you go – don’t want to miss Brandy’s brilliant top tips for adding some Robin Collective-inspired wow factor to your next dinner party over on TheEDIT now. 

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