Thought Provoking Food With Blanch and Shock

TOAST.Life chats to leading food designers Blanch & Shock

TOAST.Life chats to leading food designers Blanch & Shock, aka Mike Knowlden and Josh Pollen, to learn more about their extraordinary, edible work.

At any event, food is integral. Whether it’s canapés, bowl food or a 5-course supper – it’s essential to have something for your guests to feast on. Not only is this a practical necessity (we all know the perils of an empty stomach…), but eating and sharing delicious food is also one of life’s greatest pleasures. Taking food and bespoke catering one step further, however, is Blanch and Shock; a South London-based studio that researches food and cooks for a variety of events, often combining their cookery with theatre and design elements, transforming it to suit different contexts.

Before Blanch & Shock I was chef-ing and taking photographs, and Mike worked in wine and played drums” explains co-founder Josh.

“We were putting on events in London and Edinburgh with lots of friends who formed a collective of artists and musicians, but at that point there was no food element. We saw the opportunity to combine our love of food with the kind of collaborative approach we saw more in art and design”

And the result was Blanch & Shock - Josh and Mike’s brainchild business that uses food to explore and illustrate ideas, often in collaboration with performers and visual artists, for diverse events and projects across the UK and beyond. Past work has included exploding cakes, edible perfumes and the occasional member of the audience served up for dinner…

Brain Banquet, with Guerilla Science, was one of our favourites - the menu featured dishes that related to different ideas about the brain from synaesthesia to triggering memories with smell. We spent a while cooking at charity Headway to find out from people there about how stroke or brain injury affected their sense of taste and smell - some people we met had no sense of smell after their injury, and this inspired a dish focusing on different textures, using favourite ingredients from people we met at Headwayexplains Mike.

“We also loved doing Bone Dinner in collaboration with Companis in Birmingham. We reimagined a meal served by Gordon Matta Clark at FOOD in New York in which every dish featured bones in some way. The bone marrow bread and butter pudding was one of our favourite dishes. The event also featured jewellery being made live from the bones of the meal by Elizabeth Short, and sound by Juneau Projects”

“Food can be a great way to discuss ideas as diverse as tree cultivation to neuroscience because there are so many things to say about different ingredients. There is science, politics, history, geography, art and so much more in food. The food we serve and the context it is served in reflect these ideas and form the basis for ongoing discussion” adds Mike.

 BS Hanging Installation



BS HR 10

Another one of Blanch and Shock’s recent and incredibly thought provoking meals was part of the Wellcome exhibition Electricity: The Spark of Life; Josh and Mike created a dinner inspired by the use of artificial refrigeration, from the global cold chain to the introduction of domestic fridges, and how they will shape the future. Their menu explored the ways in which the cold cycle can affect ingredients, inform techniques and have impact on energy use.

The 5 course menu was roughly chronological, with the early dishes requiring no use of refrigeration, such as raw and fermented foods. It progressed to dishes that were only possible with modern refrigeration: a dessert with cold elements at various temperatures” explains Josh.

All of our events are so different from each other - the overall style will depend a lot on who we are working with. Sometimes that might be a theatre company such as last year’s Roman Feast with the RSC, or event designers like Teatime Production  or Lemonade & Laughing Gas

Bs Hr 8

BS HR Main


And speaking of Lemonade and Laughing Gas - 2015 saw Blanch and Shock collaborate with artists Amy Lord and Louise Orwin to create the hugely successful The Owls are Not What They Seem - an immersive dining experience inspired by the world of Twin Peaks, set over two floors of an impressive multi-storey building in Farringdon, London. The event was set in the fictional town of Double Pineview, and guests were invited to feast on three courses of Blanch & Shock’s classic American diner food, with a twist, of course.

The food was actually a great challenge because we were serving in the context of a diner, and how do you make food that is fancy enough for a big night out, yet still fit into the context of diner food?” explains Mike.  

“The first dish looked like coffee, but was in fact a mushroom broth, served with pine-scented savoury doughnuts. This was definitely the weirdest thing from that menu. We’ve found over the years that a good balance and integration between performance and food within an event is hard to find, but with Owls it worked well situating most of the performance within a restaurant space”


BS Mackerel

As well as extraordinary events such as this, mind boggling multi-course dinners, tantalising tasting experiences and edible installations, Blanch and Shock  also offer something they describe as a concept-based canapé service which, as a great lover of canapés myself, I am particularly intrigued by.

One of our more playful examples of this was a series of canapés based on computers and the internet - we devised a list of internet food puns that we could turn into canapés” explains Mike.  

“One of my favourites ended up being a cookie with edible printing on its surface from the source code of cookie files. We also made our own take on spam for that event…”

 Blanch And Stock Prep

Blanch And Stock Canepes

BS Setting

Hb 7

Now I am not a massive fan of spam myself but for Blanch & Shock, I would. I can’t help but wonder - when tasked with the somewhat unusual challenge of creating canapés based on computers and the Internet, for example - how Josh and Mike even begin to even tackle such a brief… 

“Everything we do starts with seasonal food, even if it seems to be a project about ideas. It’s important that the ingredients themselves are great. We will usually think about what is available and then consider how this can work with the ideas we are researching, be they about Roman food or refrigeration. We decide what are the most important ideas we want to discuss and then draft dishes around these. From there we spend time in the kitchen getting the flavours and presentation to work” explains Mike.

“We want the food to work best in the context of each event, and this is always different. For private events we would discuss your own likes and dislikes and come up with a menu that is going to give you and your guests a meal with a strong personal resonance”

Creating such visually sophisticated and cerebrally complex events that also taste good is undoubtedly an considerable challenge; once too often have I been wowed by the theatrics of an so-called immersive dining experience but then struggled to find my appetite when the theme of the evening has been less than appealing. The intentionally grotesque-sounding menu at a recent immersive Twits-themed dinner, for example, was my idea of culinary hell.

“One of the hardest things is to get the balance right between ‘interesting’ and ‘delicious’” explains Mike.

“Some of the stranger projects we have done have meant that we have made things that are not always immediately appealing. There is a context for this sort of thing, but we have to be careful about how it is presented. Usually we want things to be immediately pleasurable!”

Interestingly, and as is often the way these days, my use of the word immersive is somewhat contentious…

That word can be overused. People often mean something like ‘multisensory’ when they say immersive, but this is a difficult word too. Food usually touches all of the senses, but there are definitely exciting things to be done with highlighting sounds and aromas where they might otherwise be less considered than the taste and sight” explains Josh.

“Truly immersive work is extremely hard to do, as it involves building and maintaining a world that is believable. This can be an amazing thing for an audience member, but it’s not often achieved, and not always the best context for food. The balance between all the elements is hard to achieve well” he adds

“I think a lot of the time, a meal or event is memorable because of how people feel. If you can create a good atmosphere and give really great service, that is as important as the spectacle itself. People are always fascinated by new things, but they will come back if you make them feel special”

BS Plate

Main Dish BS

Blanch and Shock’s output is undeniably impressive, and deeply well considered. Mike and Josh, who are both committed to food sustainability and work to minimise their environmental impact and wastage, are currently working on dishes that have vegetables as their focus - something that they see as an exciting culinary approach whilst being beneficial for the environment. They have also recently just opened their very own kitchen and food hub in South London, which they describe as their ‘dream supper club’. The studio at Artichoke Mews is a space for research and production, and a place where this creative pair will also host dinners, tastings and workshops.

It’s more about the food itself. It’s an intimate setting with a small number of diners where we can present the food we are working on, and bring in outside chefs and makers. Our food can be very playful, but the core is always good, seasonal ingredients. We are always looking for ingredients, and processes that our diners may not have experienced before” explains Mike. 

We’re looking to build a community of people excited to learn more about food and all the subjects it connects to. We will have monthly dinners presenting the work we are doing, some of which will be based on a particular notion such as Saxon food, or blood”

For more information and contact details for Blanch & Shock visit their page in TOAST’s Little Black Book.  


Posted in Spotlight

by Sophie Farrah
on on 09 March 2018

  fine dining, food art, immersive dining

In This Article

1 hand-picked vendor
from our Little Black Book

You May Also Like

  See All Articles

Planning An Event?

Search for suppliers in our

Search for A Pro

Promote Your Business

We want to hear from you

Register Your Business

Get Featured on Toast

Suggest A Pro

- Explore the vendors featured in this article -

Search our Little BLACK BOOK for hand-picked experts & suppliers