iLoveMyGrub’s editor Helenka Bednar talks to Sam Bompas about jelly in its many crazy forms.
Sam Bompas and Harry Parr have carved themselves an unusual living from making jelly. Having worked on jelly designs with top architects including Lord Foster and collaborated with the likes of Heston Blumenthal, this jelly obsessed duo know a thing or two about the wobbly stuff. They also crafted a glow-in-the-dark jelly for Mark Ronson’s birthday and have a love for anything but the ordinary. iLoveMyGrub’s editor Helenka Bednar talks to Sam Bompas about jelly in its many crazy forms and the latest sensory project they’ve been involved in.
How did you first get into jelly making?
It started of as a bit of fun one summer and we rather envisaged a Sunday stall at the market. We wanted to do something at Borough Market. A lot of the food there is very heavy and we wanted to offer something lighter. The obvious answer was jelly! They [Borough Market] promptly turned us down, and that could have been it but we had a whole load of private client events, which rather took off by itself.
What gave you the idea to start making jelly for people?
Jelly’s always been something we’ve worked with a lot, and it’s always been a personal favourite. The other thing that’s often totally forgotten and totally neglected is good proper jelly that’s made with 100% fresh fruit. Sometimes a little bit of alcohol is always good with it as well! Jelly is something that’s coming back too. If you look at various trends in food - science based cooking, which is obsessed with textures and changing states of matter – jelly fits into that. It’s also something that a lot of chefs who are looking back at really quality British food are getting into. So you’ll find it on the menu of somewhere like St John.
With jelly, it’s quite often something you love but forget about – people just don’t tend to serve it up so much to adults so much…
There’s a real nostalgia for it – you give it to people and they say “Wow I haven’t had that in ages!” They’re very excited about it in a way that’s not just about food. The wonderful thing about jelly is that it’s so very visual as well. Unlike most food, if you make a really good jelly, it’s moving and wobbling all over the place backwards and forth. So you’re not only getting this sense of taste, but you’re getting all these visual elements to it as well. It rather relates backs to what Creating Sense5 is doing too.
What is the Creating Sense5 event all about?
Along with Vice magazine and 5 gum (a new gum from Wrigley), a panel of judges have been put together with expertise in different areas. Our particular area is the sense of smell. We’ve been encouraging people to enter a competition where they come up with artwork in response to the brief, engaging across the five different senses. There have been some amazing entries actually – we’ve had some really, really fun entries. We’ll see the results at the Creating Sense5 event on the 4th June 2009, when they’re unveiled! The winner’s will have a chance to see some of their visions realised spectacularly. I think people have been coming forward with the kind of projects that they’ve always wanted to do, and the event has enabled these incredible sensory collisions to happen. It’s interesting – something like Creating Sense5 is looking at cross-sensory, cross-disciplinary collaborations, which is quite fun.
You make your own jelly moulds don’t you?
That came about quite organically – to be brutally honest we couldn’t afford what we were looking for. We wanted to make jellies using these beautiful copper moulds that you see on eBay. We managed to get hold of a couple, but they’re really, really expensive – around £400 a pop. The market’s just totally locked up by American collectors I think, who don’t make anything with them, put them on their wall, then take them down and polish them a bit, which is rubbish! We actually then worked out that we could make our own moulds and indeed design them to be whatever shape we wanted, which has been brilliant. We could then do these very figurative jellies – so jellies literally in the shape of anything. We’ve just come off the back of doing a very accurate depiction of a Trafalgar class submarine. It was very, very precise and we got all the actual models and schematic diagrams of the submarine.
What are difficulties of making these ornate and bizarre jellies?
We’ve just done so much now, you kind of know what’s going to work well, taste good and what’s going to look really good. Basically neo-classical architecture funnily enough, works best with jelly out of anything. It’s very solidly built, so older building work better than modern buildings. But that said, we’ve done things with top architects designing jellies, which have been really exciting collaborations. We’re all really into those kinds of collaborations – they’re really cool.
You worked with Heston Blumenthal recently - what did that involve?
We did some jelly moulds with him that appeared on his latest programme Heston’s Feasts. We sat down and designed this great big glow-in-the-dark jelly. The initial work for the glow-in-the-dark element came through a doctor at UCL who was a chemical explosives expert. Basically the way he got this reaction was to use quinine which is UV reactive, and bounce UV light of it. So if you’re in a club and you have a gin & tonic, and there’s UV light, it’s going to glow in the dark. We’re actually doing some work expanding on that, looking at bio-luminescence, which will glow by itself and also looking at different UV reactive agents such as chlorophyll, which will give you different colours if you bounce UV light off it. Obviously it would be good for jelly because you can do layers of jelly, which glow with different colours, which is rather funky!
What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever been asked to do with jelly?
We get some really outlandish asks. On a weekly basis we get asked to make the biggest jelly in the world ever. We literally get that call every week. I think we’re getting to the stage where we can make a bid for it!
For more information on Bompas & Parr, visit: http://www.jellymongers.co.uk/