Jelly Cakes Are Cool Again – Thanks to Lexie Park
Instagram is obsessed with Nünchi’s cheeky desserts. But Park’s got even more tricks up her sleeve.
Mention “jelly cake” and most people picture quaint, retro desserts from the 1950s Jell-O craze. Fast forward seventy years, and gelatin is once again having a moment — except this time, the wildly creative cakes sweeping the internet aren’t exactly in Betty Crocker’s wheelhouse. Insta-famous Nunchi, a Los Angeles-based made-to-order shop is making Jell-O cake cool again with tongue-in-cheek text and shapes. Just one scroll through the shop’s feed and you’ll find a baby resting; pastel-colored corn on the cob; a snail sporting a flower- and mushroom-studded shell. Nunchi takes the jelly we know and love (or, admittedly, sometimes hate) and elevates it. Wherever you stand, you can’t help but ogle at the carefully curated colors, playful shapes and unexpected suspended objects the shop is known for. In Lexie Park’s hands, Jell-O becomes delightfully cheeky works of art that just so happen to be edible.
After leaving a successful career in fashion, Park (the creative mind behind Nunchi) never would have guessed that the next chapter of her life would involve running a jelly cake empire.
“I knew I wanted to work in food,” she says. “I was cooking a lot, watching YouTube videos about desserts and wondering what could be an interactive experience for people at dinner parties.”
Then jelly appeared in her suggestions bar.
“Initially, I didn’t think of jelly as something edible — it was more of an art project,” says Park, who once worked for Opening Ceremony and co-founded her own fashion label, Phlemuns Nonbasics. “I thought this is a really cool texture. I wanted to learn how to suspend objects in jelly and see what that looked like.”
After sharpening her technique with a pastry chef friend, Park’s jelly cake made its public debut at a Fourth of July party in 2019.
“People were like, ‘What did you make? What is that?’ Everyone was kind of scared to eat it,” she laughs. “But I liked that reaction. I realized that this [jelly cake] is something that will start a conversation.”
Soon, Park launched Nunchi, and Instagram started to catch onto the jelly cake craze. Park’s cute but out-there style grabbed the attention of brands and celebrities like Nike, Squarespace and The Weeknd — and the orders began rolling in. At first, most of Nunchi’s customers were project-based. Many bought a Sanrio pastel-color jelly cake as a prop for an event or to take photos.
But Park had greater culinary ambitions. “I wanted it to be taken a little more seriously in terms of taste and flavor,” she says. “Not having gone to culinary school, I was feeling insecure because I don’t have as much technique or skills. But a lot of my friends who are chefs say that’s actually lucky, because I wasn’t taught that there’s only one way to do things. It really allowed me to play.”
Armed with a deep-seated passion for food and a self-confessed obsessive streak, Park started making weekly trips to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market to hunt down the freshest of California’s famous produce. There, she discovered peaches that opened her eyes to the power of quality, seasonal ingredients like strawberries, apples and raspberries.
In addition to fruit, Park finds much of her inspiration from traditional Vietnamese desserts and other Asian food cultures, including her own Korean heritage. (Nunchi is a Korean word that roughly translates to hyperaware or the ability to size something up).
“My boyfriend and I live near San Gabriel Valley, which has a pretty big Chinese and Vietnamese population,” says Park. “Every time I went to the markets there I noticed they had an aisle with things made of jelly — pandan jelly, especially.”
Park soon started incorporating Korean flavors like barley tea and white silk corn tea, as well as other Asian ingredients and fruits like matcha, lychee, yuzu and even wakamomo, a baby peach from Japan that’s bottled and preserved in sweet syrup. Recently, she created a mandarin jelly almond cheesecake, a take on the classic Chinese dessert almond jelly and mandarin oranges. At Chifa in Los Angeles, a Peruvian-Chinese restaurant founded by Park’s former boss at Opening Ceremony Humberto Leon, Park designed a corn-shaped almond jelly dessert served in a honey Oolong tea.
Still, Park acknowledges that even the most delicious jelly cakes aren’t for everyone.
“Jelly is very love or hate,” she says. “There’s no real in between. There are people who are repulsed by jelly.”
For them, Park invented the jelly cheesecake about a year into running the business. With both the visual appeal of jelly cake and the familiar, comforting taste of cheesecake, it’s currently Nunchi’s bestseller.
Now, in addition to continually improving her jelly cake technique, Park is broadening her brand even further to include a new line of packaged savory foods, clothing and home goods that is available for sale on her website. Highlights include a so-cute-you-can’t-stand-it lazy Susan shaped like Nunchi’s floral logo, as well as two of Park’s beef jerky recipes: one featuring her own kimchi powder as well as a spicier Sichuan version.
It’s Park’s goal that someday soon, her gorgeous jelly cakes will be just one part of her thriving business.
“I don’t want to just be this jelly lady,” she says. “That’s the part of this journey that’s difficult. I don’t know if I’m in food or fashion or art. I am trying to create a business. A lot of people are trying to categorize it like, ‘What does your art mean?’ I don’t know. I’m just creating things I enjoy and love.”