I’ve been meaning to write this post for forever so I’m just going to delve right in. It’s more of a personal post than a strictly food related one, so I hope you’ll forgive if it gets a bit rambly. As I may have told you, for the cooking course I was doing in the States I had to complete a number of externship hours working in various food related establishments. I also wanted to get as much experience as possible, so took on a couple of part time jobs in addition to my externships. In fact, for a while I thought I would definitely want to get into the food industry full time … but then I had a little life setback which sort of put a temporary rest to that idea. (I’ll explain more about that later!) This means that for the past three months I’ve been working all over the place – everywhere from a restaurant to an artisan ice cream maker to a relatively large scale bakery. It’s been pretty crazy – but also really fun – and this is the first time I’ve ever really collected my thoughts on all of it. Although some of it was REALLY challenging – turns out I’m REALLY slow at making candied peel – it was also amazing and I definitely learned so much. Given that my mind is like a sieve (fun youth?! Old age?!) its extremely lucky that I wrote down many of the lessons as I went along. I’m going to split up my summaries into a little series – and I’m going to start with my first work placement at a tiny artisan ice cream maker here in London.
(An ice cream maker who also happens to make the best ice cream in the UK. Smug much?)
Okay guys – you know me and ice cream, this was BY FAR my favourite job. For two weeks I worked with Kitty Travers, helping her to prep ingredients to make ice cream to via La Grotta Ices. Kitty also lectures on ice cream at various universities and designs a range of ice cream for a well known restaurant. Working with her was really a lesson in tiny artisan production – it is literally one incredible lady running the entire business and making ALL the ice cream. Kitty doesn’t use any machines – apart from to churn the ice cream – so much of the work is prepping the fruit and add-ins. (Kitty is famous for her fruit ice creams and once told me her inspiration was to create a means for people to get the incredible taste of fresh fruit, with the creamy texture and mouth feel of ice cream).
The difference in how this ice cream tastes to industrially produced ice cream is unreal. Like seriously. Its like comparing homemade loaf to wonder bread – only the best kind of home made because Kitty obviously knows her trade so unbelievably well. Not only that, but she also knows ice cream so well, she can afford to be adventurous with flavours. On the first day she offered me a taste of cucumber and sour cream sorbet – to which I gave a slightly alarmed ‘um OKAY SURE!’ response… and then ate probably the best sorbet of my life. It’s a testament to her experience with food that these experiments turn out well – when I later decided to add some black pepper to my white chocolate ice cream (made in my own home!) the results were not nearly as promising.
Working with Kitty was also wonderful because it was just so calm and peaceful. Basically it’s just her working away in a tiny little kitchen that was once a georgian green grocer in a picturesque part of London. She’s like the poster child for aritsan food production. Every day we would just put Radio 4 on, brew some coffee on the stove and get to work. The downside is – as I’m sure you can imagine – the production margins. Doing it all by hand, and yourself, using only the highest quality ingredients.. its not a strategy the modern world is sympathetic to. Kitty has supplemental income through her teaching, her ice cream design and other food projects she has going on (named as one of the ten best young chefs to look out for, she can certainly stay as busy as she needs to!). Kitty also works 12 hour days, many days of the week – and although it might not feel like work in the same way as being a customer services rep does, it still impedes on your free time. I think Kitty has intentions to open up a full time shop – currently she sells at food markets! – and I know then she will need to look at means of expansion. I’m sure she will find people to keep up her high standards, but it will definitely be a change (a good one though because more people need access to her ice cream!). I can see fully the value of the statement ‘if you want a job done properly, you have to do it yourself’. In any case though, it was an incredible experience and a valuable lesson in how food made by hand with love just does taste different. Anyone going anywhere NEAR London, must try La Grotta Ices!
ALWAYS use the best quality ingredients you can afford: Anything that doesn’t taste good on it’s own, is unlikely to taste good as an ingredient. Kitty buys only the freshest, in season fruit and tastes it all before putting it into her ice cream. Likewise with using fresh, unhomogenised organic milk and cream! Obviously we can’t all afford these things all the time, but be aware that ice cream is one of those foods (unlike soup for example!) where each ingredient really shines through.
Full fat will ALWAYS taste better. You can make frozen yogurt with low or non fat yogurt – but try using full fat greek style and a decent amount of sweetener. The results will be exponentially better. Adding a bit of condensed milk too yogurt based ices also gives a wonderful flavour.
Patience: After you make the custard base for an ice cream always allow it so sit in the fridge at least overnight before churning in an ice cream maker. This will allow the flavours to develop properly and give a much more rounded result. Sorbet on the other hand, can be churned immediately.
Recipes to Emulate:
Rasberry Sorbet (made with GOOD quality raspberries)
Chesnut Custard Ice Cream
Parfait Bars! (pictured below).
I dont have any specific recipes – those are just ideas for flavour combo’s I particularly loved – I guess just follow the good quality ingredients advice above!