A monger is a “a dealer or trader in a specified commodity”, which would make a jellymonger someone who deals in, well, jelly. UK-based jellymongers Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, of Bompas & Parr, are visiting Melbourne for the Food & Wine Festival this March, where they’ll discuss taking their specified commodity to new heights, perceptions and flavours through determination and an intellectual and architectural slant on their creativity and sheer, decadent pleasure.
Bompas & Parr tried to start their business in the London summer of 2007, when they submitted an application to sell their jellies at London's Borough Market. "They turned us down," says Bompas, "but we managed to pull in a couple of jobs making fresh fruit jellies for parties. [But] after the Sunday Times included us in an article about the renaissance of traditional English food, business took off."
It took off quickly, with their striking architectural jellies featuring at parties and events. But finding moulds to create the complex, striking designs was the tricky part. “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,” Bompas explains. “But Harry (Parr) soon realised he could use the techniques he learnt as an architect to help us design our own moulds. Now we’ve created bespoke moulds for all occasions.”
Occasions have been plentiful and breathtaking in their execution. “Our first big jelly event was the Jelly Banquet at the London Festival of Architecture in 2008,” Bompas explains. “We hosted a competition to find the Ultimate Jelly Architect and discovered that it’s possible to attract more than 2000 people, and a lot of press, by presenting jellies with a bit of panache.”
Through the detail, quality and authenticity of their work, the profile of participants they enticed to the Jelly Banquet was impressive. “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.” The ultimate cherry on top was chef Heston Blumenthal on-hand to present the prize to the winner; he also used the occasion to get inspiration for his own jelly creations for his TV series Feast.
To achieve this kind of intensity and professionalism, the intertwining of art and architecture is inevitable. “You can’t disentangle the two,” says Bompas. “We use architectural techniques and technology to design jellies and often work with food on a monumental scale.” Indeed, the scale of their projects has seen them flooding a building in London with over four tons of cognac punch that visitors boated across before having a drink and creating a vast glowing jelly installation for SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).
But the fundamental element to jelly in any context is its texture and this is also a fundamental element to Bompas & Parr. “This (texture) is a key component of fine jellies. The best gelatine-based gels will melt in your mouth with a silky texture. We don’t use vegetarian gelling agents. None are as good as gelatine. Weirdly, many vegetarians are still happy to eat jelly though it’s made from all the grisliest bits of animal.”
At the Food & Wine Festival the jellymongers will present audiences with a textural adventure, challenging our perceptions of flavour combinations and allowing us to imbibe through our eyes and nose. “We’ll be making flavour-changing gums in 40,000 flavours,” Bompas notes. They’ll also be “collaborating with the mighty Burch & Purchese on a landscape of Melbourne made from dessert, and are hoping to build a breathable cloud of cocktails that intoxicates through the lungs and eyeballs.”
Apart from delighting and challenging us, Bompas & Parr also want us making jelly at home and are happy to guide us through the process. “If you’re not a trained architect or don’t have a collection of your own moulds, never fear,” Bompas says, “there’s much that can be done using items you’ll find lying about your kitchen. In fact, we’re going to show you how you can get unbelievably creative with jelly.”
Given that Bompas’ favourite flavoured jelly at the moment is prosecco and violet jelly with raspberries – and a recent flavour that impressed him was a sweet korma blancmange – creativity sounds like our only option.
Bompas & Parr reinvigorate funeral food today with Nelson Bros funeral services and are part of the Langham masterclass weekend for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival tomorrow at the Exhibition Centre.