I get invited to quite a few product and restaurant launches. Most of the time I have to say no. Mummy duties and life outside of the London bubble don’t always facilitate early evening gallivanting.
One invitation landed in my inbox and I didn’t have to think twice. It was from Joe & Seph’s, the popcorn people.
A family business, founded by Joseph Sopher, is truly a Mom and Pop-corn success. Joseph fell in love with US-style popcorn when on business trips and ruined countless saucepans in his quest to emulate it. Early retirement didn’t suit him and, in a lightbulb moment, he decided to start making and selling his own version. Joseph, his wife Jackie and son Adam took it to the Good Food show at Olympia in 2010, and with a few hours they had sold out. The rest, as they say, is history. It has been a constant on the shelves of Selfridge’s Food Hall since 2011 and can be found on airlines, in hotel rooms and cinema food counters in the UK and abroad. Read the full story here.
Having been sent a box of the crunchy, golden nuggets when writing their story, I knew what to expect and the press visit was in my diary before you could say — ‘fancy a trip to gorge yourself silly’. Not even the Harlesden venue of their kitchens could put me off.
It did not disappoint. Welcome drinks were accompanied by bowls of caramelised sea salt and black pepper and caramel and espresso flavours.
In the kitchens we examined the ‘mushroom’ corn kernels they use — so-called for the large expanse of popped corn — and then watched the barrels popping the kernels. Apart from the barrels doing the popping, the entire process is done by hand.
The popped corn is coated in their caramel — to which the flavouring ingredients are added. No essences or flavourings, the ingredients are (mostly) the actual ingredients. Once coated in caramel — the mixing is done by (gloved) hands — the popcorn goes into the oven to be cooked and crisped up. Once that part is done, it gets a second mix (again by hand) to prevent any clumping together, and into the bags they go. We watched chef, Adrian, de-clumping the chocolate flavour, which we all dived into immediately. (Well I did anyway...)
We were then invited to guess the recipes for the Gingerbread Latte and Toffee Apple and Cinnamon flavours. Ingredients were put out for us — coffee granules; cream; ground ginger etc — but how much to add? We’ve since been sent the cooked version of our efforts and they’re not bad.
Next step was a blind tasting. Split into two teams, we competed to guess the flavour of the five mystery jars. The only one we missed was the extremely moreish cheese on toast flavour — we got the cheese part. What’s so amazing is that the popcorn properly tastes like what it’s meant to be. Strawberries and cream was exactly that as was the Espresso martini.
The clever part of this popcorn is that the flavours seem to develop gradually in oyr mouth. The Gingerbread Latte was immediately coffee, but within 20 seconds, the ginger came through. So clever.
I’d happily eat my way through the entire range, but my own personal favourite is their Marmite. Sweet and savoury never fails to please.
I love a success story, and the Sophers are flying the flag for family businesses everywhere. Later this month, they’ll be heading out to Hong Kong as part of a showcase for UK businesses to Asian companies — the GREAT Festival of Innovation organised by the Department for International Trade.