Love eXcellence Interviews Murphy Williams

Murphy Williams is the creator of Cloud Nine Marshmallows. These exquisite marshmallows, such as salted caramel and peanut or pistacchio and white chocolate, are adapted from a traditional French recipe and prepared in small batches with exciting, natural ingredients – convivial childhood favourites transformed into luxurious puffs of perfection.

- Where did you study and what is your background?

I read American Literature at Sussex University, and my background is in journalism - I spent 20 years writing and editing at Vogue, GQ, Esquire and The Telegraph magazine, so no connection with marshmallows there! I always loved cooking though, particularly cakes and festive food, so making gourmet marshmallows felt perfect for me.

 - How did you get your business started?

Once I'd had the idea, just under two years ago now, I was raring to go. The only equipment needed at first was a food mixer and a sugar thermometer, and once I'd worked out how to get the texture as light and fluffy as possible, I gave out samples at a local restaurant, the Long Gallery in St Germans. They sold sold seven packets on the first day so after that great start, I commissioned the all-important packaging, and then some beautiful photographs, taken at Port Eliot, my husband's family estate. I built the website myself and then focussed on getting some press. Cloud Nine was featured in the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, The Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times and Grazia. Orders came flooding in and we became Selfridges' marshmallow supplier.

 - How did you finance your business in the beginning?

Before I had proper labelling, I would print it all myself, until I made some money at festivals and fairs, which paid for the design and printing of the present packaging. I borrowed money for equipment and building a dedicated kitchen, and by Christmas it was all paid back.

 - What were the biggest challenges? 

Choosing which of the many wonderful marshmallow flavours I or my friends dream up should go into production, filling out the endless forms for Selfridges and stopping people from gobbling up all the samples at food fairs!

 - Who or what most influences your work?

Anything from the mouth-watering menu at Vanilla, an ice cream shop in Polzeath, Cornwall, to the macaroon counter at Fortnums. 

 - What made you choose your particular medium and why?

I always loved the deep winter and high summer associations of marshmallows, but had no idea you could make them yourself, let alone flavour them. The delight I felt in making my first batch, and then getting the texture as light as feather falling on a pillow, made me want to share them with others.

 - Take us through the creation of one of your designs?

The flavours usually start with puddings I love. The Stem Ginger and Madgascar Vanilla, for example, is a take on classic Ginger Cake and Custard, the Lemon Meringue is based on the pie. Then I will work out how to how to make them taste and look really distinctive. If there is an alcohol involved, as with the Creme de Violette for example, it will involve a few tastings of the various violet liqueurs available. The labelling comes next, choosing a colour for it, and then at last the shoot.

 - What great mentors have you had in your life? 

My partner Louis Eliot has a particularly fussy palette, and was never a fan of marshmallows, so I know that when he's had two bites of a new flavour, I'm getting somewhere.

 - What aspect of your work gives you the most enjoyment?

Converting a marshmallow hater to its possibilities is always a pleasure. I have been catering for lots of weddings this year, and getting feedback from brides such as "The response was unanimous, what fab treats they were!' makes it all worthwhile. I also love running stalls at festivals and fairs. People soften towards me when they've tried a sample, and often start revealing their innermost secrets. It makes me feel like a cross between the Juliette Binoche character in 'Chocolat' providing my customers with a blissful confectionery escape, and Walt White in Breaking Bad, working all hours to a precious formula in my would-be laboratory.

 - What impact has technology had on your business?

Most of my business is online, through my own shop or various partners, such as Love eXcellence, so Cloud Nine would not exist without the internet.

 -  What one luxury can you not do without?

In the Cloud Nine kitchen, my microplane zester has been a bit of a life-changer! Out of there, I always carry my beloved cordless portable speaker

 - What are you working on now and what are your plans for the future?

Getting ready for Christmas - making sure I have enough of everything, boxes, ribbons, tags. Last year was insane. The new kitchen wasn't ready and we took over the kitchen, playroom, conservatory, front hall and front staircase of our ramshackle farmhouse. This year we will be prepared! Otherwise I have just come up with two new flavours I am really excited about and am just working out the labels now.

 - List some brands, people, works that you consider excellent? 

Vivienne Westwood; Nicholas Cage, Dinny Hall Jewellery, The Idler Academy, Teddy St Aubyn, Port Eliot Festival, Elvis Costello.