Meet the jellymongers, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. The old Eton College pals have taken the UK party scene by storm with their flamboyant jellies, bow ties and jelly-stained trousers.
Whether it’s flooding the ground floor of a stately home to make a giant cocktail navigable only by boat, or inspiring the world’s top architects to make jelly, the jellymongers recently also enchanted Melbourne with their brightly coloured, often alcoholic, and very wobbly creations.
They whipped up funeral jellies for Melbourne’s Nelson Brothers funeral directors, and reduced a food and wine festival masterclass to, um, jelly, while they recreated Flinders Street Station, Southern Cross Station and the Shrine of Remembrance in lurid shades of gelatin.
The duo turned their minds to jelly in 2007 as a weekend distraction, taking it from a nearly a century at the bottom of the culinary pecking order, when it was made from packets and reserved for kids’ parties.
But, traditionally, it was the dessert of kings, mainly due to the high cost of refining it from the leftovers of slaughtered animals, and the high cost of ice in an age before electricity, gas and refrigeration.
Bompas and Parr’s first idea was to sell jelly at London’s Borough Market, but their application was rejected, which led them to event catering.
There are several candidates for the holy grail of jelly creations, which Bompas says they are currently chasing. One is to create jellies that glow in the dark. But, despite engaging the services of a top explosives experts, they have found that mostly only toxic substances glow.
With one exception. They are starting to use an enzyme known as luciferase, which makes fireflies glow.
“You get this beautiful phosphorescent bloom,” says Bompas.
Another thing on their must-do list is a vegetarian (although Bompas notes many vegetarians will eat jelly) or vegan jelly. While you can buy gelatin billed as vegetarian, it’s made from fish. The alternative is agar, which is made from seaweed and doesn’t have the soft, voluptuous, melt-in-the-mouth texture of gelatin-based jellies.
“The person who invents a vegetarian jelly that is as good a gelatin is going to be a multi-millionaire,” says Bompas. “It is the holy grail of food tech. Agar is more solid and a bit crumbly in texture and doesn’t melt in the mouth. At the moment, gelatin still reigns triumphant.”
With Parr’s architectural expertise, the duo have moved from humble plastic Ikea storage containers as moulds to making their own and making them for chefs. One reason for this is the prohibitive cost of vintage copper moulds of which they only have a handful. Parr uses a 3D printer to craft a mould from which injection plastic ones are made, as they did with Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.
A good mould should conduct heat, as gently melting the jelly helps it slip out. When using vintage moulds, it’s important they don’t leak and, in the case of copper, ensure the internal tinning is intact so that the jelly won’t be poisoned with copper contamination.
For this reason, china moulds should be avoided. “They are awful to use,” says Bompas. “They are really, really bad. I’d recommend avoiding china moulds at all costs.”
According to food historians, the traditional way of using china moulds was to line them with animal fat.
The key to making delicious jelly is to use good ingredients and the imagination. Plus, liberal doses of alcohol. Among the jellymongers’ favourites are plum and Riesling, and gin and tonic jelly – Hendrick’s Gin, tonic, rosewater, cucumber essence and a splash of Campari (for that pink tinge).
Bompas and Parr’s top 5 tips
1 Don’t be afraid of jelly. It’s pretty much the most forgiving dessert you can work with. If you get it wrong, just add some more gelatin, melt it down again, and it will set.
2 Never use anything below gold gelatin or, even better, titanium strength, which is clearer and has less flavour than lower grades. Avoid powdered gelatin at all costs, as it definitely has a hint of animal about it. Use one leaf per 100 ml (the same as 100g) of liquid. Most manufacturers adjust the size so one sheet has an even strength. So, one sheet of gold, platinum or titanium should always work with 100ml of liquid for jellies intended to be unmoulded.
3 Always unmould a jelly. Half the fun of jelly is in the wobble and watching it move. You don’t need a proper mould for it to be beautiful – plastic freezer containers and bowls from the kitchen will work. Always use plastic or metal. China moulds are doomed as not lining them with animal fat means they’re impossible to unmould.
4 Think of a jelly like you think of your favourite cocktail and add gelatin to it. Try using champagne or sparking wine with added liqueur. Negroni jellies also work well.
5 There is one rule of jelly: After 11pm, jelly will be thrown about. Someone is always going to disgrace themselves with jelly.