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A Curious Calling: Sam Bompass & Harry Parr, Jelly Mongers

Jelly, it isn't what it used to be – it's so much cooler

Written by . Published on July 25th 2011.

A Curious Calling: Sam Bompass & Harry Parr, Jelly Mongers

Twenty-something years ago, in whatever Eden he had reached, Willy Wonka stumbled upon the Heston Blumenthal tree of knowledge. He couldn’t resist the shiny, smoky fruit he found there and, eating it, fell asleep. When he awoke, he had two sons and the garden was filled with jelly. God was pretty pissed-off that his pigs had been boiled up to make a wobbly dessert, so he kicked them all out of the garden. Willy’s eyes glowed with pride, however, and he named his sons Bompass & Parr. “Jelly!” They cried. “Jelly, jelly, jelly!” And they ran off to spread the word. Jelly banquets, jelly weddings, jelly funerals, jelly art installations – nothing was beyond their enthusiasm. Now it’s 2011 and I’m sitting on the roof of Selfridges beside a bright, green boating lake being fed whiskey and champagne in jelly form by sprightly sailors who won’t stop grinning, in celebration of a new sweetener. What ridiculous parallel universe have I ended up in? Sam Bompass joins me as I ponder this through my extra-sweet whiskey haze and, stopping the rain with a single glance, explains in immaculate Queen’s English the life of a jelly monger. 

How long have you been making jelly?
Four years. We started almost by accident and entirely for fun. Me and Harry just wanted to do something fun at the weekend. So we thought we’d start a stall at Borough market. And of course, they turned us down immediately.

There are a few things you’ve got to avoid: pineapple and papaya. They contain a flesh-eating enzyme called bromelain. If you have too much of it, it’ll actually dissolve your stomach.

Why didn’t they want jelly?
People didn’t know the joy of the jelly then – the genius. They just thought, why would anyone want to buy a jelly? It was weird because we’ve now done jelly on five of the world’s seven continents. And we just got asked to jelly in South Africa. Jelly’s something that, if you put one out, everyone has a jelly story or can relate to it in some way.

What’s your jelly story?
There’s no single jelly story. I’ve made jellies in funeral parlours using their fridges. We’ve done jellies as art, jellies as banquets for two thousand people…


Buckingham Palace, photographed by Ann Charlott OmmedalBuckingham Palace, photographed by Ann Charlott Ommedal

What’s your favourite jelly?
The ultimate jelly is probably violet liqueur and prosecco with elderflower and a little bit of gin. You have to think of it like making a cocktail. Most people should be able to make a couple of good cocktails. It’s not hard, despite what anyone tells you – just liquid, liquid, mix it up. Add one leaf of gelatin per 100g and you’ve got a smashing jelly.


You can put anything into jelly?
Yes, but there are a few things you’ve got to avoid: pineapple and papaya. They contain a flesh-eating enzyme called bromelain. If you have too much of it, it’ll actually dissolve your stomach.

What’s the biggest jelly disaster?
Probably when we were doing the Tata-Naka show at London Fashion Week. At the centre of the catwalk was this massive jelly installation. We got there with masses of time – we thought it’d be really easy. But my chef, Andrew, had started experimenting with new jelly agents. He used trans-contaminator. It’s like glue! Usually you just put the moulds in hot water and the jelly slips out. But the jelly didn’t come out. We held them in longer and they still didn’t come out. Harry and I were there, holding the jelly in boiling hot water, each with three oven gloves on, until the moulds melted. And the jelly still wouldn’t come out! So ten minutes before the show started we got all the seamstresses from the entire building to bring their sheers and cut down the moulds. It looked amazing. But that was probably one of the most awful moments of my life.

What’s your dream jelly to make?
It sounds quite silly – but I’d love to do a really, really, big jelly. It’s hard to do very large ones because they tear themselves apart. That’s another problem we had – when we were asked to do a jelly in the shape of a volcano, just a bit smaller than Richard Hammond. Now, he’s a small man, but that’s still quite big.

Richard Hammond was going to jump from the jelly?
No, just stand beside it. We tried in Harry’s garden. It was really cold so we were able to use the whole world as our refrigerator. We got the jelly going but then we had to invert it. The whole thing exploded and just slipped everywhere! It went all over Harry’s garden. Harry’s garden stinks of pig to this day – all the grizzly bits.



It all sounds very decadent. I get this image of huge lords lounging in piles of jelly, throwing it at commoners...
It was once. They were laid as table centers at Victorian dinners in order to titillate the guests. But I want it to be universal, demotic. We’re trying to re-create Disney Land, but in a slightly middle class way. There’s something magical about a wobbling jelly.


In the flyer for this event it talks about synesthesia – are you synesthetic?
No. If anyone tells you they’re synesthetic, they’re probably lying – trying to impress you with their artistic credentials.

You don’t see the world in jelly-form?
I would like to. No, synesthesia as a condition is very rare. But it can be used as a gestalt perspective – as a way to address people’s senses. So when doing something like this, we’ve got all the music composed so it fits in with the space. It’s very Henry Mancini with all the cocktails and then as you go down [to the fake-jungle boating lake] it changes. You use that to choreograph peoples’ emotions, mapping it onto the visuals and what people are drinking. You’ve got to use every hook you can to give people an exciting time.

Is getting drunk on jelly better than getting drunk on booze?
Errr...it’s harder to pace yourself. As you’ve found out.

To read about more curious callings, please click here


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AnonymousJuly 25th 2011.

How cool are these guys??? Makes you think that anything is possible doesn't it?

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