Thursday the 17th saw me in a room full of people, the Cookbook Cafe to be precise, watching two young men show us what extraordinary things they can do with their jelly.
Allow me to explain.
As (sort-of) anthropologists of food, my cohorts and I in the MA programme at SOAS are quite involved in what goes on with food in many different angles. Living in London, there seems to be a fascination–or perhaps even a fetish–for food fantasticalism and conceptualism. Pop-up restaurants and cafes are common, such as the Cafe du Pique-Nique I visited, mingling performance with more prosaic needs and desires: eating, drinking, socialising.
So, it comes as no surprise that one of our own, Paul, notified the Foodie group of the upcoming inaugural event for The Experimental Food Society, featuring a lecture on experimental food with Bompas & Parr.
Prior to this, I had been familiar with the names Bompas & Parr from articles off the Londonist website on their Parliamentary Waffle House, which I actually did attend while it was in session. I went on a Friday evening with a friend, which apparently wasn’t the best time to go, I suppose, since the politically-carnivalesque atmosphere I was hoping for wasn’t quite going on, because it was Friday evening and everyone was too busy getting drunk elsewhere in Soho to be bothered with waffles, so the place was relatively deserted. However, I had noted through Twitter posts that it was quite a fun place to have been on Election Night, and my experience (and belated–and slightly burnt– waffle) may have been just a fluke due to when I had visited.
Nonetheless, I was up for whatever shenanigans Bompas & Parr were willing to demonstrate for those of us interested in experimental food. I went to the Cookbook Cafe over near Hyde Park Corner station and later met up with not only Paul, but also fellow Foodies Katrina and Elisa as well.
For my American readers, I should clarify: ‘jelly’ means what you and I have been referring to as Jell-O all our lives, a gelatine foodstuff that wiggles and we sometimes put fruit in it. Yeah, Jell-O. When I was thinking of the American equivalent term to jelly, I realise how branded our term for it is, because Jell-O pretty much dominates the gelatine dessert market in the US. The term jelly, however, isn’t the creation of a corporation, so I will be using it here in this article, because frankly I like it better, and I always say “peanut butter and jam sandwiches” anyway.
So yeah, jelly. Bompas & Parr know a thing or two about jelly. They wrote a book on it. The talk began with a young woman who introduced herself as Alexa Perrin, the founder of the Experimental Food Society, as she talked about the Society and also provided an introduction to the duo, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. The pair were quite interesting, as they both seemed personality-wise almost reminiscent of a comedy duo, with the straight, sort of shy gent (Mr Parr) contrasted by the sweeping gestures and booming voice of the other (Mr Bompas). They both seemed like good guys with a sense of humour and really imaginative approaches to food and drink, with jelly being a particular field of interest. They were at one point invited to the United States by Jell-O to make a jelly version of the United States, complete with vertical monuments and buildings such as a silo and the Empire State. I think the one event they held which I wish I had managed to have gone to was when they filled a room or bar with Hendrick’s Gin mist.
Oh, if only I had been there.
They also demonstrated various “jelly secrets” in how to make jelly at home, complete recommendations on what type of moulds to use and how to get the jelly out of said moulds. There was a hand-out of jelly, which came as I had left the room in order to attend to the cold I was having. I was told by my friend Katrina, who claims she isn’t normally a fan of jelly, that the jelly was, indeed, good.
During the spirited Q&A session, I asked a question regarding the old aspics of the 1960s in which salad is encased in jelly, and if they had ever tried anything such as that. I think I sort of stumped the duo–perhaps my query was too rooted in American culture–but the guy in front of me knew what I was talking about. In case you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, you must immediately go to The Gallery of Regrettable Food. Seriously. Don’t finish this article, just go now, although I don’t recommend going if you have plans on eating anytime soon.
After the lecture, and after eating some of the free food that was available from the hotel kitchen, we had a look at the new book, Jelly with Bompas & Parr. Well-photographed, with wonderfully tenuous links to other ideas relating to food. Aphrodisiac Jelly? Bompas & Parr have apparently made it happen. The book was on sale for £12, which was a pretty good discount. I didn’t get a copy of the book myself, but I did loan my friend Paul a tenner so he’d be able to get a copy, which he had Harry Parr and Sam Bompas sign with my colourful Muji pens.
It was a promising start for the fledgeling Experimental Food Society, and I’m looking forward to hearing about their first annual Society Spectacular in September. In the meantime, you can catch the Jellymongers mongering jam as part of Magic and the Occult, an event that is part of The Surreal House at Barbican. It’s £8 entry online, and I’ve got my ticket in a virtual, online sense.