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.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Baby it's Cold Outside... so I think I'll head on out to the O&O...

I love winter in Cape Town. I love it because it's cold and it rains. And I can snuggle up in front of the fire. And I can wear lots of layers and cover up my ams and arse. I also love it because it's seen as the off season and restaurants and hotels offer winter specials to coax Capetonions out of their lairs. So imagine my disappointment when mid July offers up temperatures in the mid to late 20's. I can only hope for another cold front. And when it comes I'll be splurging and warming up at The One&Only Cape Town. It took me quite a while to fall in love with the O&O because when it first opened it appeared as if locals weren't exactly the target market. Not at those prices anyway. But then, a couple of years ago they got a new GM and new PR consultants and soon word got out that Capetonions were most welcome. That even if you couldn't afford the bed nights, there were ways in which you could experience and enjoy the absolute luxury that is the O&O. And winter is an especially good time to do this. Sure, the O&O will never be a budget option, but they do make a serious effort to offer locals some pretty decent specials. At this point I have to say that I have attended quite a few functions there on the media ticket over the years, but having done so I spend a fair amount of my own money there as well. Because I do like me a bit of luxury....
Right now my first prize would be a trip to Thailand or Vietnam , where I could be massaged and pummeled and spoiled and eat delicious street food. But that ain't happening. So the next best thing is to take advantage of this spa winter special. And pretend. As I did last year and will do again. 
Appropriately named  the Defrost Yourself special (and valid until the end of August), the O&O Spa  offers this great package with treatments such as Hot Stone Back, Neck and Shoulder Massage, Warm Coconut Scalp and Head Massage, Boutique Radiance Facial, Chocolate Paraffin Hand and Foot Indulgence, Anti-Ageing Eye Treatment and a Rooibos and Cinnamon Back Cleanse.

Choose 2 Treatments for R626
3 for Treatments R895
4 for Treatments R1200

In addition to the fabulously relaxing and indulgent treatments in the beautifully-lit, high-ceilinged treatments rooms you also get to enjoy the world class facilities, so be sure to wallow in the bubbling Vitality pool and  warm up in the steam room and sauna. 
The spa was recently voted Best Hotel Spa in Africa and the Middle East in the 2013 Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards and in my experience it really does deserve the accolade.

Make your reservation by calling 021 431 5810 or by emailing Spa.Reservations@oneandonlycapetown.com

And so if this reads like a punt, forgive me, but I really am only sharing the love. For me there is no more fabulous gift than a spa voucher. I like being massaged. I recall one holiday, many years ago when I went to Malaysia with my mom for a week to escape the relentless London  winter. We stayed in a luxury hotel where we had fantastic massages in the lush hotel gardens bordering the beach. We paid in dollars, and while eye-wateringly expensive, we thought it worth every cent. But on Day 3, while wandering on beach, I noticed that some entrepreneurial local were giving massages to tourists for less than a third of the price of the expensive hotel massage. Were they professionally trained? Hell no! But I could get three for the price of one. So while my mother, being no fool, chose to continue going with the experts, I went off to the beach for a few crummy, cheap massages and I'd come back to the ylang ylang-scented hotel, reeking of peanut oil.  Not my finest hour.
So trust me on this one, darling, when it comes to massages it's all about quality,  not quantity. Promise.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

On Rhodium and Rings. On Wine and Whine.

(The Wine)

(The Ring inscribed with the words 'Lief jou vir altyd' meaning 'Love you forever' )

When Jacques and I got engaged I sold my Kruger Rand to pay for the gold of my ring. I also had several links from a gold chain removed so that the jeweler could use it to make a wedding band for Jacques. (The chain, sadly, is now uncomfortably short and I seldom wear it.) We did what we had to do. He had just finished studying and there wasn't much money. Having discovered how horribly expensive platinum was we chose white gold. And tiny (tiny) diamonds. But the design was great. And the inscription even better. Almost 14 years later I still love the ring and I never take it off. Ok I only take it off once a year when I have it Rhodium-plated. Rhodium, if like me, you never knew,  is a rare, extremely valuable, silver white member of the platinum group. It is also electroplated on white gold to give it that reflective shiny surface. This is known in the industry as 'Rhodium flashing.' Whatever. It annoys me. And had I known I would need to do this, I would have asked for a silver ring.   So I've decided to stop with the Rhodium flashing malarky. It's silly and unnecessary. The ring I wear is shows signs of wear as do I. Relationships (and life) are seldom easy and we bear the scars. We should do it without shame, without wanting to cover up. After almost 13 years of marriage, I proud and grateful that we've come this far. I don't need a shiny ring. I'm grateful that I have this one. With this inscription.

Which brings me to an altogether nicer form of Rhodium. The beautiful red Rhodium 2010 (made from 50% Merlot, 10%Malbec and 40% Cabernet Franc and selling for R330.00) from The Oldenburg Vineyards. I tasted it at a wonderful wine lunch where I felt decidedly out of my depth with all the great wine writers who are seriously knowledgeable about wine. I don't have that sort of knowledge, but I do know what I like. And I like this red. I like it a lot.
Micheal Olivier knows a lot about wine and it pleases me that I'm right in liking it. So if you don't trust my opinion, here is his
Anyway, the wine is seriously good (more than worthy of being named after a (very) precious metal, it's the sort of wine you want to drink while lying in front of the fire with a lover. It's smooth and calls for sensuality and I've been saving it up for a special occasion. So having taken the photo a while ago for this post, I put it away, knowing that come the first rainy weekend, I would lure Jacques away from his books, banish the dogs to the other room and share this rather special wine with him in front of the fire. Last night was the night.  But the wine was gone! Missing! As in bloody disappeared. Jacques swears he never touched it, but I suspect he gave it away to one of his mates. So if one of his friends  who may have been given it, reads well I hope your Saturday night temperatures were less frosty than ours. 
In the meantime I'll buy another bottle of Rhodium 2010 for us to share one evening soon. Because I'd  still rather drink Rhodium than wear it. With this infuriating, but lovely man with this un-flashed-beautifully-inscribed ring....

Shhhhht.. It's a (Spier) Secret.

I generally don't like crossword puzzles and cryptic clues.  I don't like any form of races. And I have a horrible childhood memory of my sitting in the back of my parents car getting car sick while on a treasure hunt throughout a deserted city centre. We were the last to arrive at the destination and, rather humiliating, won the booby prize. 
But I had so much fun today. Today I went on a Twitter Hunt with Spier Secret.
I sometimes forget how much fun it is to play. Most adults do...

But The Spier Secret Festival  is where food-loving-grown-ups get to play. This will be the third year running and I simply cannot wait for Friday 25 October for the fun to kick off! We had such fun at the first one held at  Cape Town City Hall. Even more at the second when it was held at Spier and became known as The Spier Secret Festival. This year promises to be another goodie with presentations by the Dutch, world famous Eating Designer Marije Vogelzang,  UK baking darling Lily Vanilli, American chef Robert Sayre who will talk about Conflict Kitchen (a take-out restaurant that only serves food from countries with which the USA is in conflict). Local speakers are the the divine Jacques Erasmus,  fabulous Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy, and Frans Smit(Spier Cellar Master) and Johan Jordaan (Spier Senior Red Winemaker). I'll also be presenting an interactive event whereby we'll explore the concept of food and memory.

This year there will also be a whole host of Spier Secret Dinners which will be held in September and October. Tickets cost R350 per person and include food and wine, creative spaces, interesting ideas and good conversations. (Ok nobody can guarantee good conversation, but I've never been disappointed at a pop-up.) Even if you have no intention of going to the actual festival don't miss out on the opportunity to attend some of the most interesting pop-up experiences around. Hosts include Abigail Donnelly (Editor of Eat Out, Food editor of Taste) , Bern le RouxCara Brink, Carmen Niehaus, Caro de Waal (Editor of Food 24), Raphealla Frame-Tolmie (Food editor of house & Leisure), Matt Alison,  The Creamery.....

Tickets to the one-day conference cost R900 (including breakfast, lunch and tea). The special dinner with Marije Vogelzang costs an additional R650. There is also a half-day biodynamic farming lecture on the Saturday by Nicolas Joly  for R900, including lunch.

Otherwise just bring the family to the food market on the Saturday. It's like an old-fashioned kermis. Just way cooler....

Click on www.spiersecretfestival.co.za   for all the information you need. 

Spier Secret Launches (this is like looking at other people's holiday snaps, I know...)

(Taken at last year's Spier Secret media launch. A true blind tasting of Spier Chenin. I'm at the end, next to Sumien Brink who sat next to Matt Alison. Not that any of us knew that at the time! This was a beautiful experience where our senses of smell and taste were heightened due to our sense of sight having been taken away.)

 ( The Twiiter Hunt. Me drinking two glasses of Spier Chenin. My friend Sam Wilson put her back out so  couldn't make the #twitterhunt. instead she tweeted encouragement and I got to drink her wine and fetch her prize, which I may, or may not, give to her.)

(We had to dig out our clues at Oranjezicht City Farm)

( Ginger Caramel Popcorn, a perfect match for the Spier Chenin made by my divinely talented friend Cara Brink.)

( Working for the next clue. I wrote 'With Spier Chenin I could drown my sorrows.' It won me the clue 'The East City Precinct's Literary Corner.')

(My friend fabulously-clever-knows-everything-about-books-and-important-things Verushka Louw from The Book Lounge holding my prize. More Spier Chenin!)

( Lovely, lovely books at The Book Lounge)

(Other Sam's clue was 'You'll find good coffee behind the dog's bollocks.' Which of course too me to Deluxe Coffee in Roodehek Street.) 

(A deluxe dinosaur. He gets a bit prickly when he hasn't had enough caffeine)