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Gelatinas, a floral wonder and growing business
That empowerment is built into the course she and Balleza took from Nelly Gail, who's on track to become the premier instructor of so-called artistic gelatins in the United States.
"It's going to be a big thing," Gail says.
The 47-year-old Buellton, Calif., resident grew up in a small town in the Mexican state of Michoacan. She has known about artistic gelatins since she was a girl but was shown how to do the injected-flower technique first by a friend in the States in 2004 and then from her friend's sister in Tecario, Mexico.
Gail contacted Duche, a French concern that makes the special gelatin, flavorings and colored powders and publishes a magazine to promote them. She set her sights on being the U.S. distributor for Duche, and went to the company's plant outside Mexico City to take its gelatina classes in early 2008. Her technique impressed them enough to earn Gail a demo spot at a food exhibition; afterward, they proclaimed her "Chef Nelly."
"If I see any kind of flower, I can do it in gelatin," she says. "I took my orchid gelatinas to friends' parties, and they were wowed. Now I teach in Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston and New York," in addition to television appearances on Univision.
One of the reasons Gail was keen to cement a relationship with Duche is the quality of its gelatin. The almost-pure protein product, made from the hides of pigs or cows, has a density (or "bloom" rating) akin to that of pharmaceutical-grade gelatin, much higher than the sheets of leaf gelatin or unflavored powdered gelatin available to pastry chefs and home cooks.
That means it takes less of Duche's fine powder to produce a neutral medium: a crystal-clear, odorless gelatin that's easy to work with. Gail and her husband, Perry, can furnish students or clients in the States with a $75 start-up kit of sorts - everything except the syringes and needles - to make flower gelatinas. Gamboa figures her per-gelatina cost for materials is about 50 cents.
Of course, passion and artistry are required. Gamboa was pleased to discover that she has the touch. She has written to Chef Nelly to thank her. From the flowers set in gelatin, opportunities grow.
"People send me letters and photos. They make me cry," Gail says. "My students are primarily Latino, but there are Russians and Filipinos and Chinese. A lot of the ones I taught have started their own businesses. That makes me happy."
Individual gelatinas at Canela Bakery cost $3.50 ($7 for Valentine's Day roses in a wineglass); call 240-631-9599 for special orders. Chef Nelly Gail's next classes on the East Coast will be held March 26-30 in New York. Call 877-500-0907, 805-688-3898 or go to www.chefnelly.com.