Monday, 18 August 2014

Ma, It's Been One Year.

(Marie loved a voorskoot…)

My mom died a year ago today. They told me the longing would get easier. And it does. Thankfully no one told me it would get better. Because it bloody well doesn't. I miss her every day. Every single day. 
Those last days in the hospital were harrowing but happy. If I think back on the last 24 hours of her life I am grateful for many things. That, as a family, we could share her last meal with her. It was melkkos, brought to the hospital by a dear friend who arrived carrying a huge pot of my mom's favorite milky sweetness and enough spoons and small bowls for the entire extended family. I am grateful that her grandson was christened at her hospital bed. That her favourite nurse was on duty to administer the last morphine. That a kind hospital volunteer came to paint her toes a pretty pale shade of pink, as requested 'for the journey'. And that my father kissed away her last breath. I am most grateful for the latter. We should all be loved to death. 

Comfort Me With Butter.

My mother died a few months ago. But we had time to say goodbye.  Time for her to tell me where she had put the silver cutlery that she wanted me to have. Time for me to ask her for her brandy butter recipe. We dealt in practicalities because it was too horrific to acknowledge the desperate sadness of knowing that time had finally run out, too heartbroken about the fact that we would never share a meal again, too desolate to speak of a Christmas without her. Too sad for conversation. When the end came I simply told her that I loved her, told her that I would one day name my daughter Lily and my son Sebastiaan. I promised her that I would be strong. I told her that words were unnecessary. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want them. Because I do. I still have so much I want to tell her; so much I want her to share with me. While I still could, shortly after her death, I would dial her telephone number so that I could listen to her voice message - so that I could hear her voice.  I would give anything to hear her voice again.

The other night I boiled some mielies for supper and as I was slathering them in butter, Jacques asked me where he could find my mother’s salt. I broke down in tears for I had used the last of the spicy salt my mom made for us a while ago. Thinking that she would, as always, replenish my stock as soon as she felt better. She never did. And I never did find out what it was that she put into the salt to give it that distinctive taste. A taste that will now elude me forever. The taste given to me by the mother I mourn. That night my tears salted the mielies, the mielies that I drenched in butter in honour of my mother. Because my mom believed that butter made everything better. She comforted me with butter, both as a child and as an adult. And now I need butter in the face of my relentless, all-consuming grief. I eat butter the way Marie taught me to. Cold butter thickly spread on hot toast. Buttery eggs. Marie biscuits held together by softened butter. Sweet potato with melted butter. Hot buttered popcorn.  Anchovy butter. Bread and butter pudding. And as I eat the butter I remember. I recall the laughter, the travels, the late night reminiscing in foreign hotel rooms. I remember how we would always hold hands in the cinema, how every phone call ended with a love-you. How she drank cognac from a crystal goblet and tea from a mug. How soft her skin was and how loud her laughter. And as the butter sizzles in the pan, I know, In elke bietjie botter sal ek Mamma onthou. In every bit of butter, I will remember my mom.

(This column first appeared in Taste December 2013.)

Friday, 20 June 2014

A Golden Bowl.

I have written about Jacques Erasmus and Hemelhuijs before. Here and here. He is a close friend so it may be that I am biased but I am compelled to write about him again.
Hemelhuijs is one of my Happy Places. It is also a place that my mother adored and so I go there when I miss her. And I missed her on Thursday. As I do every day.
And so I ordered the mieliepap, served simply with orange blossom honey and salted butter. 
When it arrived, I saw that my pap was served in a gold bowl from Jacques's latest homewear collection. 
There are few things in this world more beautiful than mieliepap served in a gold bowl. 
The warm porridge caused both the butter and the honey to melt in tiny rivulets that ran around the edges of the bowl. 
Small gold streams were circling my porridge. 
The taste was as I remembered: the mielipap of my childhood. 
Warm sweet and salty.
I cried. Because of its familiar comfort. Because I longed for the one who had first made it for me. And because the dish was both opulent and honest. Complex in it's simplicity. Because this particular bowl of pap was both/and. As the most important things in my life most often are.

It is a sign of a great chef when the ingredients are more important than his ego. 
It is a sign of a great artist when he sees the beauty of plain porridge and honours it with his gold. 
It takes a great man to recognize the value of heritage and to love it so beautifully.
My friend Jacques is all three.

71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Telephone: 021 418 2042
Monday to Friday 9:00 – 16:00
Saturday 9:00 – 15:00

(I hesitated before posting this photo. It doesn't do the dish justice. Believe me, in real it surpasses anything you could imagine or see on a photo)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Banana Balm - In which I revisit an old column and an old hurt...

I wrote this for the August 2013 issue of Taste magazine. The events relate to May earlier that year. I want to put it in a blog post because it goes some way in explaining why I neglected my blog for so long but also because I am living proof that the heart can heal. Even from unimaginable hurts… 
During the month of May this year I was acutely aware of Jack Adriaan, but I was also holding our son Sebastiaan in my arms (much more about him later!) and all I felt was gratitude and love for a small boy who entered our life for 14 days and then left to be with his biological mother, making way for our son Sebastiaan to enter our lives and hearts. My Aunty Janet who passed away this month visited me during those months of devastation, she held me tight, called me 'dear heart' and told me she thought that the reason Jack Adriaan left was that he didn't need us as much as another boy would. I found some solace in her words. It gave me some measure of hope And like in most matters Aunty Jan was right. And so I send this column out into the universe again, all the while wishing the boy who now belongs to others so much love and happiness. May his life be blessed. 
Jack Adriaan, it was our privilege to look after you until you could be reunited with your mommy and daddy. And thank you for bringing us the joy that you did. We have no regrets.


A lot can happen in two weeks. You can go from being sublimely, deliriously happy to having your heart broken. You can become a mother to a baby boy on Day 1 and on Day14 you have to hand him back to his birth mother. You can find your faith and then lose it again. Two weeks is a long time.
I was a mother when I started to write this column on bananas. I wanted to write about them because they are boys’ fruit. I have watched small boys peel bananas the way monkeys do and derive enormous joy from eating them while the peel hangs in strips over their small, almost-always-dirty hands.  I have known boys to weep with laughter when watching cartoons where someone slips on a banana peel. I wanted to write about the healthy banana-fool-the-kids-ice-cream, the one where you place peeled banana pieces on a plate in the freezer for a couple of hours and then blitz them furiously in a blender, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl when they stick to it and blend it again. The result is a smooth, creamy, deliciously natural banana ‘ice-cream’ which I fully intended giving to our son as soon as he could eat solids and the summer sun came out to celebrate his arrival with us. However long that took.

Having been told to sing to my baby, I started singing the familiar childhood hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ as it was one of the few songs I knew the words to. But soon both he and I tired of that and so I sang John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to him instead. Now it appears that those lyrics were both a premonition and a promise of comfort. I know that my heart will heal, know that I will be happy again. I also know that while I will not carry our beautiful son in my arms, I will forever carry him in my heart.  But in the meantime, life does go on. And the bananas ripen.  And a column must be written. I briefly contemplated celebrating the decadence of  bananas fried in butter and served with bacon and maple syrup on mornings-after the-night-before. But I battle to recall those sensual, self-indulgent times. I thought about reminiscing about the deep fried bananas in rum sauce which we ate in the Caribbean but those memories were obscenely carefree. And the thought of indulgently whipping up a caramel-laden banoffee pie seemed too quick a fix, too sweet a thing for so bitter a time. So I asked my mom about the banana bread recipe she used to make for us as a special after-school treat when my brother and I were young because I didn’t know what else to make with the now rapidly over-ripening bananas  on my kitchen counter. It wasn’t a recipe she had written down anywhere, so we cobbled this one together from various sources, making sure to add the cinnamon-sugar-buttered pecans which were always her thing. This was the sweetness I remembered from my childhood. And I was grateful that on that stormy Sunday, with tears running down my cheeks, I could still bake banana bread with my mom, who, while also mourning the loss of her third grandchild, was being so strong for me. Later, sharing thick slices of warm banana bread with hot tea, I understood that you can be grateful and angry at the same time; be both distraught and comforted; that you can hold both joy and sorrow in your heart. But only when you are surrounded by the love and strength of others…

Banana Bread with Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans

1 cup of roughly chopped pecans
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of melted butter
 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon of salt
125g of softened, unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 medium, ripe, bananas (the riper the better) mashed well with a fork
½ cup of buttermilk

Preheat over to 170 degrees. Grease a 23 x 13cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Mix the chopped pecans, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter together and keep separate.
Sift the cake flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar for about 4 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well after each egg has been added.
Add the mashed, well-ripened bananas  to the butter mixture and stir well.
Now slowly add the flour mixture gradually to the wet mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat well after each addition.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and top with the pecan, cinnamon-sugar mix (the nuts will sink to the middle of the loaf in cinnamon-sugar-pecan-buttery deliciousness)
Bake for 55 minutes or until the top of the bread is firm and a warm brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in a tin for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Little Italian Flavour

In this month's Taste magazine I wrote about my longing for Venice and the almost-desperate need I have for a long-haul flight that would take me straight to Italy. Well that's not going to happen any time soon despite my spending the morning obsessing over glorious Venetian canal-facing apartments on a Home Exchange website. 
For various reasons we're very much stuck in beautiful Cape Town for the forseeeable future. And I'm ok with that I really am, but a girl can dream. And she can eat plenty of pasta. And while the universe doesn't magically give her exactly what she wants, it does send a kind consolation prize every now and then. Which I like to think is what happened when I got an email from Woolworths asking me if I wanted to participate in this months Italian-inspired Flavour Society. And of course I said yes. Who would refuse a generous bag of Italian goodies? Pasta, Gnocchi, olive oil, salami, Grana Padana, pine nuts, Balsamic vinegar - all those delicious flavours which remind me of a country I have have grown to love so much. The nutty saltiness of the Grana Padana and the tart sweetness of the Balsamic vinegar reminded me of that trip to Italy when I was first told to dip small chunks of Parmigianna Reggiano  into well-aged Balsamic vinegar. I was hesitant at first but once I'd tasted it I was hooked. The pine nuts made me long to make a fresh basil pesto which would be scooped over swirls of pasta. The tomato paste made me long for the simplicity of a thin- based Margharita pizza bought in the backstreets of Naples. These were the flavours of the Italy I had come to know, flavours which I could use here in Cape Town and which brought back all those memorable Italian travel moments. At this stage on our lives, this is probably as good as it gets. So I played around with some flavours and finally decided on roast pumpkin drizzled with sage butter and served with generous amounts of Grana Padano and pine nuts. It was the perfect weekday lunch whether here in Cape Town or in Rome.  (The recipe will appear on sometime soon)

I've also had an enormous amount of fun pinning to the Woolies Flavour Society Italian Pinterest board. I've posted a really easy Limoncello recipe, a couple of great gremolata recipes as well as several fabulous ways to work magic with cauliflower. And of course I pinned pastries and cake because I have an insatiably sweet tooth. Pinning is addictive and I think I've come to love Pinterest almost as much as pasta. Head on over and drool over some Italian inspiration.

So while we're all feeling the Italian love, make that pasta, rent any one of the great Italian movies and get into the Italian spirit. See if you can find the wonderful documentary Italy - Love it or Leave it. It's about two Italians who go on a roadtrip through Italy before they make up their minds whether to move to Germany or not, because, apparently, things in Italy are not quite as good as they appear in the movies. As a South African I could really relate to their angst and their love for their country.

Best way to know what the buzz is surrounding the WW Flavour Society is to check in online on the Woolworths website and to follow both @WOOLWORTHS_SA  and the #wwflavoursociety on Twitter. you want to be part of this online community that promises some real life events as well. It's a great idea. The first month the Flavour Inspiration was coffee, last month was chocolate (oh yes!) and this month's Italian, of course. I'm excited to see what next month brings. Really I am. you should be too.

Dare I say it? Of course I do…. Buon Appetito!

(The Italian Flavour Drop. I ate the salami right away. To help me think more creatively of course.)

(My creation (such as it is) - I just mixed some great ingredients together. An easy recipe. Just the way I like them. So here it is in all its glory: Roast pumpkin, Sage butter, Grana Padana and Pine nuts. Easy perfection.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Youdidnoteatthat? No, I didn't think so. (but I'm smiling anyway.)

My latest obsession is the Instagram account youdidnoteatthat . I derive enormous pleasure from it. It's pure silliness. Macarons and doughnuts, manicures and toned tummies are exposed as having very little to do with one another, another than being hugely desirable. Everyone featured (without their permission of course) is sexy with fabulous bodies. Only when you have body issues, such as I do, would you  DREAD being photographed eating something fattening and would you NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS post a selfie doing said eating on Instagram. Which begs the question,  'Did they really eat that?' 
Some contributers to the Huffington post have their knickers in a knot about it claiming that the account is picking on thin people.  Policy Mic took it all rather seriously and weighed in on the matter. New York Magazine interviewed the anonymous person behind the account and I think she came across as quite sane, not a thin-shamer at all. 
It's not meant to be taken seriously. And really I don't think it's mean. If I looked that good and could do so while eating a dozen doughnuts, then I'd also post it on my Instagram account. And if someone wanted to pick up on it and show that same gorgeous image to 97K other followers that would also be ok. In fact, I think I'd be quite pleased with myself. And if they laughed at me? Well honestly I'd still be the one with the fabulous legs who could eat carbs without fear. And if those featured didn't eat that, well then they shouldn't have been playing with their food in the first place.  Not so?

(youdidnoteatthat when I last checked in this morning)

(Oh, look, they're picking on the boys as well.  Just look at that six-pack? It's tough choosing which one you'd like to go to bed with, that or just double up and go for the dozen doughnuts. Erm having said that, he's not my type, so I'd take the doughnuts.)

(Ok seriously? The lid is still on the Nutella jar…)

(Nope. No eating done here. Teeth are barely touching the doughnut glaze. But I wish I had her body and her self-restraint.)

(Weirdly enough. I really like this image.)

(And I love this one as well. So she's not really taking a bite of that Big Mac, but she's rocking those bling rings.)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Michael Broughton is The Flavour Merchant

So last night at 18.15h  I settle in to watch the first episode of a series of one of my favorite chef's in one one of my favorite restaurants on one of my favorite wine estates. Seasons at Terroir on DSTV Nat Geo 181 did not disappoint. But how could it? Magic will reveal itself. 
Now if that sounds gushy, forgive me, but last year I had the privilege of interviewing him for Cape Etc magazine and and it turned out to be one of my my favorite interviews ever. He is a lovely, lovely man. Both inside and out.
Here is that article.

(And yes, I know it's been almost a year since I've blogged and reposting an old article may seem like a bit of a cop out, but a lot has happened the last year and for a variety of reasons I was hesitant to share them at the time. I'll get around to them. You know I will, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve….)

(The Lovely Chef Michael Broughton)

The Flavour Merchant

In some circles, chefs have become the celebrities of choice. They generate a lot more excitement that models or actors do. There is something very attractive, dangerously so, about someone who makes their living playing with fire and knives. And of course, the plus side is that they encourage you to eat dessert which, clearly, models or actors would never do. But by their very nature, celebrities are also the cause of much gossip and misconceptions.  So in walks celebrity chef, a regular (nine times to be exact) on the Eat Out Awards Top 10 list Michael Broughton, good-looking in that laid-back, sleepy-eyed, 5 o’clock shadow kind of way. And you expect him to act in a certain manner; perhaps be a little arrogant?  A tad too blasé? Or charming in that well-practiced I’ve-done-this-all-before manner. But he’s none of these things. He is sincere, kind and principled. And suddenly his celebrity status and his culinary accomplishments, both well-deserved, are overshadowed by the the character of the man.

And that takes some doing. Because the food Michael Broughton creates at Terroir, on the Kleine Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch is pretty damn impressive. The restaurant itself is elegantly subdued, which is perhaps a kind way of saying, slightly ordinary, but the service is excellent, the glassware good, and the linen stiffly starched. The best tables are outside with views of the lovely gardens and historic oak trees. But you come here for the food. Not for design porn or hipster credentials. If you’re serious about food, you go to a place where food is more important than fashion. If you’re serious about food you go to Terroir and struggle to make your selection from the chalkboard menu, because you’ll want to choose everything. Using seasonal and where possible, locally sourced ingredients, Michael’s deceptively simple menu is both a celebration of and a tribute to what eating is all about. Eating is about tasting food, about appreciating flavours. The rest, which admittedly Broughton is rather good at too, is just bells and whistles.

His food is grounded with the magic lying in the sauces. And interestingly enough, according to Michael, had he not become a chef, he would have liked to have been a cabinet maker. ‘There is something very creative but also timeless about working with wood. A good piece should stand the test of time. It should be able to stand alongside a modern Perspex table or next to an antique chair of ancient wood. It has to be solid. In a way that’s the way I feel about cooking. Cooking must be timeless. It must be able to be carried through and stand firm against fashions that come and go. I’ve had to make peace with food fashions. But I still feel you should guard against reinventing something for the sake of reinvention. How many times have you seen a tiramisu dressed up and down when all you really want is a nice piece of delicious tiramisu. Don’t give me the coffee bubbles here, a piece of deconstructed biscuit there and a squirt of cream somewhere else. That makes me see red. It may look beautiful but for me the most important thing is the mouthfeel of something and the deliciousness of the taste. It’s been hard to withstand the pressure of fashions but I’ve decided I will remain authentic to what I believe in.’ And it is this authenticity which he shares with Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze and Terroir, and for whom he has so much respect. ‘ I learned a lot about wine from Kobus. He is very clever and incredibly knowledgeable about wine. He’s the only guy I know who does not spit, still stands up straight after a marathon winetasting session and walks out with complete control. Every year when we compile the wine list we hold our own blind tasting. About nine of us sit with 40 bottles of wine at a time. Each bottle is covered in brown paper and only the year, the cultivar and the price is known. This way we select the best wines, fairly and without influence. When I first arrived at Kleine Zalze the receptionist was a wine maker, the lady who did the books was a winemaker, then there was the winemaker and the winemaker’s assistant. When you’re in this environment you listen and learn. And for me, coming here from Johannesburg, being afforded the opportunity to listen to the wine ‘speak’, and just taking everything in has been an incredible journey in the food and wine paring world.’ So where does he get his inspiration from? ‘I don’t eat out that much so I don’t get to try other chefs food as often as I should. I get my inspiration from reading. I read incessantly. I’m a great Alain Ducasse fan and I really rate Pierre Hermé. I think that those two guys can keep you busy for years. But my library grows.’

Michael Broughton never set out to be a chef. As a child he was never particularly interested in food but he liked cooking. It was in his blood. ‘I was a first team rugby player who was zipping home in between practices to make scones with my mom. So I enjoyed cooking, but I never thought that much about it yet, tellingly, for my 15th birthday, my dad bought me a Kenwood Chef. In those days you didn’t tell your mates you liked to cook because that would be a problem; you could get your arse kicked for that. But all I knew was that I liked to go home and cook with my mom. But then my mom and dad got divorced, and my mom left and my dad had to look after us three boys. And my dad, being this big time banker, would come home from work in his suit and tie and he’d cook for us. Jacket off, tie on, apron tied around his waist, he’d cook. He’d never cooked before but when he knew he had to feed three boys, he opened a recipe book and began cooking. When he finished, he’d whistle and we would all sit down at the table and enjoy a two course, sometimes three course meal prepared by our dad. Every single day for 5 years, from Std 5 to matric my dad cooked for us. My father was quite arty, but he could never make peace with that. In that time it was verboten. You had to do a ‘manly job like banking. Not cooking or something creative. I’m quite like him in that way. It’s taken me 15 years to come to terms with the fact that I’m an artist. I work a dodgy job. In a dodgy industry. It’s very uncertain, very unstable and it’s hard work. But it’s a compulsion.’

Broughton never formally trained as a chef, he went to hotel school for three years and for the next 10 years he was a hotelier; a general manager for the City Lodge Group. But at 30 he hit a mid-life crisis and decided he’d had enough of corporate life so he handed in his resignation and bought a restaurant on auction. This restaurant was to become Broughton’s (in Johannesburg) and would garner him his first two Eat Out Top 10 awards. He had no formal training and had never worked in a restaurant before. Soon after opening the restaurant he bought a book by the 3 Michelin star chef, Nico Ladenis, who became one of the single most important culinary influences in his life  and who he regards as a mentor and with whom he is in regular email contact. But it wasn’t all that easy in the beginning. ‘ We were empty for 18 months. We would perhaps have 3 or 4 tables on a Friday night. But that was it. And 15 metres up the road there was a very successful Italian restaurant that was full 7 nights a week. And for 18 months I’d watch his customers park in my car park, walk across to my entrance with their bottle of wine under their arm and they’d walk up the road to his place. And eventually I had no money left. I’d borrowed from my dad, borrowed from my mom, from my brother and eventually the family said no more. I was bankrupt, I had taken every single last bit of my savings, I sold my house, my car, my bike. I had no medical aid, So I told the staff that we had about 3 weeks left but that if they got a job offer, they should take it. But on the same day I told the staff this, I got a phone call at the restaurant from Barry Ronge (famous South African columnist and restaurant reviewer ) saying he’d like to have table for Friday night. Now this was Wednesday, and I looked at the reservation book and there’s not a single booking on that Friday. So I phoned a friend of mine, and said ‘Bokkie help me.’ And she did. She got 45 friends to book for that Friday night when Ronge came to dine. And from that Friday onwards, thanks to the Ronge’s favourable review, we were full every day. 60 covers for lunch, 60 covers for dinner. I paid my debt off in 9 months.  And that year I made the Eat Out Top 10.’
‘How did you keep the faith?’ I asked him. Michael’s answer is simple. ‘I have faith. I’m a Christian. And I just stuck my head down. I just stuck my head down.’

And then a few years later came his move to Cape Town, to Terroir, where he won seven more Eat Out Top 10 awards and where his food has been recognized as being consistently amongst the finest in the country. Where he runs a kitchen of quiet generousity. ‘I treat my team the way I treat my children. I teach them about life. I teach them how to talk to one another, how to treat one another. No swearing, no shouting, no screaming. I always say if my daughter was standing in the back of the kitchen, would my behaviour be ok? And 99% of the time I’m fine with it. I don’t lose my rag easily.’

So what does he do when he’s not at the restaurant, when he’s at home? ‘I love being at home. I love having my kids around. I’d rather be there than anywhere else. So for me it’s always a push-pull. How much do I work? How much time do I spend at home. And I know that in between there’s not much time for anything else. But that’s ok. I read. I’m a Bible scholar. I study. I play guitar. We cook. There will be those nights at home when I’m with my wife Jane and I’ve made a kickass pizza, when we’re drinking a great bottle of wine, when the kids are in the swimming pool and the sun is setting. When you just breathe in. Breathe out. Breath in. And you know that it doesn’t get much better than this.’

(This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Cape Etc.)

Kleine Zalze Wine Estate, R44, Stellenbosch
Telephone: + 27 (0)21 880 8167
Terroir is open for lunch 12noon-3.00pm  Monday to Sunday

Terroir is open for dinner 6.30pm – 9.00pm Monday to Saturday

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Throwing wobblies

A little over three months to go before the Spier Secret Festival and already I am excited. I have had a tweet favourited by non other than Lily Vanilli!  The one in which I beg her to recreate these anatomically correct hearts for the Spier Secret Festival. Being slightly weird and loving a touch of the macabre, I feel I must eat a 'bloodied' red velvet heart. I simply must.  (And no, I do not wish to make my own, in case one of you smart arses were about to suggest that I do.)

So while contemplating any potential future joyous culinary surprises, I thought back to last years festival where jelly was celebrated and I got to meet and interview the loveliest two boys. Sam Bompas and Harry Parr of Jellymonger fame. And so I made some jelly in my new Jelly Baby mold. It was not, as the photograph shows a big (visual) success. But it tasted good (Cream Soda flavor!) and it squelched. And those things are terribly important when it comes to judging jelly...

(How jelly should not look: Effort by Sam Woulidge)

(How jelly should look: Effort by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr)

Here is the piece I wrote for Taste . It first appeared in January 2013)

Bompas & Parr. The name is reminiscent of an old-fashioned circus troupe, hinting at magic acts, bizarre spectacles and feats of great daring. Clearly, they were destined for this job. They, being 20-somethings Sam Bompas and Harry Parr who met one another when they were both 13 years old and playing in the same orchestra at Eton. The job being that of jelly mongers; the label the duo invented when, years later, having left potential careers in public relations and architecture respectively, they thought it a good idea to sell jelly to the public. As one does.

There is something nostalgic and wonderfully English about jelly. Something playful.  And it is only right that this underrated food has the charmingly polite and earnestly enthusiastic Bompas and Parr as its modern day champions. Their flights of fancy, natural curiosity and hints of eccentricity are just what jelly needed in order to reinvent itself as more than just hospital and nursery fare. Bompas and Parr have come a long way since they sold their first alcoholic jelly shots in a club, cleverly undercutting the bar in 2007. Digging into the past and imagining the future they have since then created savoury jellies, tobacco jelly, alcohol-infused ones, meat jellies (most notably an unpalatable zebra one) magical glow-in-the-dark jelly, black funeral jellies, impressive flaming jellies and rude jellies with gold leaf bits. designed beautiful jelly installations for London Fashion Week and have recreated famous landmarks in miniature jelly format for the architectural jelly banquet for the London Festival of Architecture. But most memorably in May 2012, they created the biggest jelly in the world using 55 000 litres of jelly, this happened in Bristol when they floated the historic ship Brunel’s ss Great Britain in a neon green sea of jelly. 55 000 litres of neon green jelly. How could anyone top that in terms of scale or sheer ridiculous splendor?

But it is with the small jellies that, I think, that Sam and Harry have the most fun. They seem to derive enormous pleasure from experimenting with flavours, shapes and colour. But what they love most is The Wobble. ‘What about sound?’ I asked them, alluding to the squelching sound that Nigel Slater referred to as ‘a sort of jelly fart.’ This led to earnest discussion. ‘The wobble and the noise are related to one another,’ explained Harry, before telling me how they had scientifically recorded the sound of a jelly wobble. ‘But I don’t agree with Slater’s description of the sound jelly makes.’ asserted Sam. ‘ It’s more lewd. It’s a smutty sound. A sexual sound.’ And then I blushed profusely.

Obviously, as young boys, neither Sam Bompas nor Harry Parr paid any attention to their mothers when told that they should not play with their food. Because play with food they certainly do. While jelly is, and will always be their first love, these food fantasists have ventured into other culinary arenas as well. They are famous for their food installations and once created an Artisanal Chewing Gum Factory, one that would have made Willy Wonka proud. Based on the principles of microcapsules releasing different particles as you chew, they sourced 200 flavours ranging from the orange, foie gras, vodka, damp earth to candy floss and quince and allowed visitors to create their own flavour-changing gum.  There have been flavour-tripping parties where guests ate miracle berries – a West African berry that makes bitter and sour foods taste sweet -before heading for the buffet and taste-bud confusion. They constructed a crazy golf course atop the rooftop of Selfridges in London and more recently created a decadent drive-thru underneath the store in an-almost-forgotten marble-floored basement. They are also big on Alcoholic Architecture, having installed a giant punch bowl, large enough to row across and containing 4000 litres of punch, in a London mansion for Cognac brand, Courvoisier. Even more impressive and enjoyable, I would imagine, would have been the walk-in experience created for gin company Hendrick’s. Here, to the accompanying soundtrack of liquid splashing and tinkling ice, visitors donned boilersuits and walked into a room being pumped full of gin-and-tonic mist, but the stay was a short one as the alcohol was absorbed through the lungs and eyeballs and anyone overstaying their welcome would end up getting completely trashed. The parties where ether-dipped strawberries were served led to verbal confusions as names were forgotten and nouns mixed up. And they have made Occult Jam for a surrealist art exhibition using a tiny snip of the late Princess Diana’s hair and infusing it in gin and then combining it with milk and sugar  - a creepy condensed milk of sorts.

On a recent visit to South Africa, as speakers at the Spier Secret Festival, those attending were lucky enough to experience the jelly side of things as well as the experimental genius that is Bompas and Parr. The jellies, boasting appropriately slutty wobbles and smutty sounds, were made of chenin blanc, granadilla and flecked with gold leaf were absolutely, potently delicious. The installation? Well, that caused more than a few sparks. Calling on their schoolboy love of science and being showoffs, they created a spectacular gherkin chandelier which consisted of 60 gherkins, each one drawing 500 watts of power. ‘A potentially deadly act.’ Harry warned me, ensuring that, once the pickles were powered up, I stayed well away from the eerie light, the fizzing, the spluttering sparks, the momentary illuminations and the sharp smell of burning pickle. ‘60 Gherkins will lay down their lives for this, for the purpose of bringing pleasure to 150 people,’ I recalled Sam telling me. I had been moved by his sincere explanation that while some wastage may occur, they try and stay well clear of what he terms ‘gratuitous waste’. ‘Food is an interesting medium for art. But food is also important. It has to be respected. The justification of some waste, lies in the potential joy it brings. You must worship food. Celebrate it. It’s what we do. It’s the way we make people happy.’

Where did it begin? And where will it end, I’d asked them that afternoon, while they were making jelly.
‘It began with cakes.’ Harry said. ‘My mum had Woman’s Weekly cookbooks with birthday cakes for every age. It was very compelling as a child. One year there was a blue jelly swimming pool, the next a telephone covered in sweets. The cakes were sculptural, it my first introduction to figurative food.’
And end? ‘It will end with Harry and I sitting in an old people’s home one day, ‘smiled Sam. ‘And someone will start boasting, ‘When I made chocolate waterfall…’ And we’ll be like ‘Well, we once floated a ship in 55 tons of jelly….’ And then they both laughed, like small boys, enormously pleased with the idea of themselves as old men, recalling the surreal magic they had once created.