27th May 2016
Interview Killian Fox
Illustration Tim Laing
Ice cream is a magic food. The way it melts in your mouth is so fun – and it has a low satiety so you can eat and eat and it doesn’t make you full. Taking beautiful ingredients and turning them into this wonder-food that makes people happy is the challenge that keeps me busy.
Everyone’s got an ice cream memory. For me, it’s connected with going abroad. In 2001, I was a waitress in Cannes during the film festival and I was having a horrible time. My solace was this wonderful ice cream shop off the Croissette called Vilfeu Pere et Fils where I’d go for breakfast every day. It was a really old-school place with dark stained-glass and green leather banquettes, and they had these amazing colourful ice creams with flavours like calison, cherry, poppy seed and saffron. You don’t forget stuff like that.
My strongest memories from childhood relate to ice cream. Once, at the circus, my mum turned around and I was gone from my seat. I was in the dustbins licking Mivvi wrappers, every flavour I could get my hands on.
None of these memories are about having the best in the world. I used to love the long yellow bricks of ice cream from Sainsbury’s. And I often go back to Mr Whippy for nostalgic reasons – although I know what’s in it now, which spoils it a little.
I love selling ice cream at the market. We get a lot of kids and some of them are really up for crazy flavours, really tangy sorbets. Creating good memories for other people: that’s my ambition when I’m making ice cream.
I’m always trying to make something that’s as perfect as a ripe fruit. Or the flavour of an almond. That’s why I generally don’t make flavours like toffee or mint choc-chip: it’s not as interesting for me.
I tend to make ice cream until Christmas. Then I’d go away for a few months and work in restaurants – or at least I did before I had a baby – and then start back again in April. I worked out that selling ice cream when the temperature is under 14C isn’t worth it. The ice cream doesn’t melt in your mouth.
I worked out that selling ice cream when the temperature is under 14 degrees isn’t worth it. The ice cream doesn’t melt in your mouth
We have a funny attitude to ice cream in Britain. We have wonderful dairy, better than anywhere I think, and wonderful soft fruits – Scotland has the best raspberries. But we eat ice cream differently from other countries. It’s more with a tub in front of the telly at home, or with pudding in a restaurant, than walking around with a cone. Which is a shame. In Italy you buy an ice cream to take on a passeggiata after supper.
There’s a lot of good ice cream around Britain and a lot of bad too. In Scotland, there’s an amazing ice-cream-eating tradition that comes from the Italian community; there’s a place in Glasgow that makes white ice cream fresh every day and it’s absolutely delicious. I also like the pistachio ice cream at Damas Rose, a Syrian café on the Edgware Road in London. They thicken it with mastic and salep and beat it with a stick to get the perfect texture, then roll it in crushed pistachios. Amazing!
There are five key implements you need to make ice cream at home. (1) A good stainless steel pan with a solid base. (2) A digital thermometer, so you can take the custard to the right temperature without overcooking it. (3) A heat-proof rubber spatula. (4) A heart-shaped, spring-form whisk that allows you to stir the corners of the pan. And (5) an ice-cream maker – these days £20 can buy you a decent one.
If you’re making ice cream to eat straight away, you can do whatever you want. Churn up some double cream and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and some strawberries and it’ll probably be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten. But if you’re making something that can keep in the freezer and scoop easily, then it has to be well-balanced. That’s when you need to know your stuff a little bit.
Leaving custard overnight in the fridge, or ageing it, is very important. The ice cream will hold its shape better when you scoop it and it’ll have a much richer, creamier texture. When I teach, we put a vanilla ice cream that hasn’t been aged next to one that’s been aged for 24 hours. The aged one is always creamier and smoother.
My most adventurous flavour? I’ve done a few vegetable ice creams. Cucumber or pea pod ice cream is really refreshing in summer. At the moment I’m making knotweed ice cream for an arts project in Shoreditch. We’re making ice cream out of weeds to change people’s perspective of invasive species.
“What is gelato?” is a question I get asked a lot. Officially gelato has more milk than cream and gets its thickness from the clever use of other ingredients such as milk powder and sugars which make it very dense and smooth (they also have fantastic machines to spin it really fast). It can be wonderful but it can’t really be made at home.
Stay away from gelaterias with big mountains of ice cream. They’ll have used lots of air and stabilisers to make them set like that. And avoid the blue ones, the Smurf-coloured gelati. If the shop keeps their ice cream under lids, that’s a good sign.
La Grotta Ices is at Spa Terminus, London SE16, on Saturdays throughout the summer, and available at select suppliers around London. See lagrottaices.tumblr.com for more info
Image for Kitty’s portrait was kindly supplied by photographer Tif Hunter from her series ‘On Maltby Street 2011’. See more of the series at onmaltbystreet2011.tubmlr.com and find out more about Tif on her website www.tifhunter.com
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