Photo, Carl Palmer; Illustrations, Emma Rios;
Even the word ‘jelly’ conjours up images of children’s parties, ice-cream and that one child who insists on throwing a massive wobbly (excuse the pun) and breaks your favourite toy. However, avant-garde jellymongers Sam Bompas and Harry Parr are moving this delightful, juvenile foodstuff into new arenas. We caught up with Sam to find out what all the excitement was about.
We’ve also got a copy of Sam & Harry’s debut recipe book, ‘Jelly with Bompas & Parr’ up for grabs. To enter, head here.
PlanetNotion: How did you get into jellymongering?
Sam Bompas: Our business began when we applied to set up a stall at Borough Market for the summer of 2007. They turned us down, but we managed to pull in a couple of jobs making fresh fruit jellies for parties. After the Sunday Times included us in an article about the renaissance of traditional English food, business took off.
We soon found that we couldn‘t afford to buy decent antique moulds: the market has been cornered by collectors, who like to put holes in their moulds and hang them on their kitchen walls. Harry soon realised he could use the techniques he learnt as an architect to help us create our own moulds. Now, we‘ve created bespoke moulds for all occasions: everything from birthdays to funerals.
Photo: Greta Ilieva
Our first big jelly event was the Jelly Banquet at the London Festival of Architecture in 2008. We hosted a competition to find the Ultimate Jelly Architect, and discovered that it is possible to attract more than 2000 people, and a lot of press, by presenting jellies with a bit of panache. In this case, we persuaded some of the world‘s leading architects, including Lord Foster, Lord Rogers and Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, to design jellies, and our competition ultimately attracted more than 100 designs from around the world. Some designs were of existing buildings, such as the Eden Project, while others were entirely new proposals. Lord Foster‘s entry was particularly ambitious, representing his notorious wobbly Millennium Bridge. Others showed that there‘s still life in jelly yet: Lord Rogers‘s practice designed a beautiful modular jelly in the shape of their Barajas airport.
The event didn‘t stop with the jellies. The event was sponsored by Courvoisier so there were fine mixed cocktails all night, we had a troupe of spoon-wielding interpretive dancers wobbling to a jelly concerto; a hugely competitive jelly wrestling competition; and, as the clock struck 11pm, one of the biggest food fights that central London has ever seen.
PN: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on so far?
SB: Probably the Ziggurat of Flavour we built at the Big Chill festival. We worked with a team of scientists to create a vast labyrinth of breathable fruit. The construction alone involved over 40 tonnes of steel. Over the course of the installation visitors contributed to their five a day through their lungs and eyeballs as they navigated a dense cloud of breathable Fairtrade fruit. It was pretty awesome.
Photo: Charlott Ommedal
PN: The projects seem to be getting bigger and bigger – is there a limit to what you can do with jelly? Is a jelly Great Wall of China out of the question?
SB: There’s certainly a size limit to what can be done with jellies. In the past we were asked to make a jelly volcano “bigger than Richard Hammond”. It was a spectacular failure collapsing across the deck outside Harry’s house. You can still smell the gelatine.
The current record for the largest jelly is held by a platoon of engineers in the British Army. They spent 24 hours getting a swimming pool of jelly to set using seven blast chillers. The resulting jelly was seven meters across and one meter deep. As they didn’t unmould the jelly this is a bit of a chizz. We’ve got plans to make a bigger jelly that is both unmoulded and alcoholic! We’re going to have to recruit some engineers to help us as this jelly Everest will weigh over ten tonnes!
PN: Do they always go right first time or have there been any jelly disasters?
SB: In principle any liquid, be it meaty stock or fresh fruit juice can be turned into jelly. I like to think of it like cocktails. Just get your liquid, add gelatine, set in the fridge and you’ll have a fine jelly. Some things, however, just aren’t meant to be made into jelly. We once made a striped black and white zebra meat jelly that was foul. It made a couple people retch on live TV.
PN: What’s the oddest jelly commission you’ve received?
SB: We are always asked to make jellies for splosh parties but I’m not sure what these are. We’ve certainly made aphrodisiac jellies though. All the jelly secrets are in our book.
PN: What’s the future hold for you guys – any exciting projects in the works?
SB: There’s heaps coming up we’re hosting Taste ‘o’ Rama at Welbeck Abbey. Diners will be able to experience a movie in their mouths as the eat the key moments from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Jones while watching the movie. The screening is in one of the grandest houses in the country.
We are also launching a range of meat jewelry at this year’s London Fashion week and working on a second book with Isabel Atherton of Creative Authors and Anova. This one’s all about booze and the research is excellent fun.
PN: Is there a simple mould/recipe that PlanetNotion readers could make themselves at home?
SB: This one could be fun.
Glow in the Dark Gin ‘N’ Roses Jelly
With jelly, half the fun lies in the spectacle. People always enjoy the wobble, but that’s to be expected. No-one is surprised by a wobbly jelly. To really bowl them over, you have to sex it up a lot. One way of doing this is to make it glow in the dark.
In the summer of 2009, we were commissioned to create the most outlandish menu imaginable to be served on a Pullman train carriage touring the country. The event was organized by Hendrick’s Gin, and curious visitors were plied with fine alcohol. The most interesting visitors were invited to a banquet hosted in the carriage each evening, which they were assured would be the most peculiar meal of their life.
We wanted to use the gin as part of a jelly that took people by surprise and ambushed their senses. Weird-tasting jelly would be too obvious – and not nice! So visual trickery was the key.
The previous year we had worked with Dr Andrea Sella, an explosives expert at University College London, developing up glow in the dark jellies. We decided to use the techniques developed in his laboratory for maximum impact on the carriage. The dinner guests went wild!
To make the jelly glow in the dark, food-safe quinine is included as an ingredient and the jellies are served in an area where UV blacklights cause them to fluoresce. The invisible ultraviolet light from the blacklights is absorbed by the quinine, which then re-emits bluish light at the edge of the visible spectrum, making the jellies appear to glow in the dark.
Dr Sella explains the phenomenon like this:
Fluorescence is one of those truly magical atomic phenomena – an optical illusion that makes things look brighter than they are, making it central not only to safety equipment but also to detergents and cleaning agents to give that ‘whiter than white’ look. All manner of materials fluoresce. The quinine molecule itself is a natural product from the bark of the South American Cinchona tree, [which] has been added to drinks for over a century. One of the first anti-malarial molecules, it began to be used by the British in India as a cure for fevers. The drug could be made more palatable by judicious addition of sugar and alcohol. Nowadays, the malaria parasite is resistant to quinine, but its bitterness adds a pleasant ‘bite’ to the flavour of many soft drinks and mixers. And the blue glow is a delightful effect that adds ambience to pubs and clubs. But if you don’t like the glow there’s a simple way to switch it off – simply toss a pinch of salt into your cocktail and kill the effect in an instant.
Photo: Charles Villyard
To be really effective, you need total darkness save for the UV light. As we were running the carriage banquets on summer nights in a train carriage with no blinds, there was a good deal of ambient light well into the evening. We hid a UV light underneath the dining table in the carriage. When it came to the dessert course, guests were encouraged to hold their plates in the relative darkness under the table to see the glow. The jellies sprang into vivid glowing colours. Most peculiar was not the glowing jelly but watching all the guests holding their plates under the table!
For the Jelly
150ml/7fl oz/generous ¾ cup Hendrick’s Gin
350ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups Indian tonic water
a splash of rose water
5 leaves gelatine
For the Glow
Combine the gin, tonic water and rose water in a jug (pitcher) and set aside. Cut the leaf gelatine into fine pieces and place in a heat-proof bowl with enough of the Gin & Tin mix to submerse. Leave until soft.
When the gelatine has softened, melt it by placing it over a pan of simmering water.
Then add the remainder of the gin and tonic and pour through a sieve (strainer) and back into the jug (cup). Now fill your mould.
Unmould the jelly by briefly immersing in a bowl of hot water and inverting over your chosen plates. For maximum effect, turn off all lights to achieve total darkness. Switch on your blacklight and serve the glowing jelly to thrilled diners.
To win a copy of Sam & Harry’s debut recipe book, ‘Jelly with Bompas & Parr’, head here.