Indian ice cream’s cool new wave
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“I test every batch of ice cream I make,” Alyysa Chesson, 28, tells me. The dessert chef is wearing a midriff-baring top when we meet, and because I’m a woman I can look inquiringly at her abs. “Pilates!” she says.
There are 12 flavours listed on the blackboard outside the small kitchen-meets-studio space of Bono Boutique Ice Cream in Bandra, Mumbai. These include the just launched Lavender Honey, Salted Caramel (a crowd favourite), Blue Cheese Honey (her favourite) and Dark Chocolate Italian Truffle Oil (my favourite). The Smoked Milk Chocolate Bacon isn’t listed because the bacon and smoked ice cream can only be prepared in small batches and she needs to keep it strictly exclusive.
Chesson’s oddball flavours, and the already cult-like popularity of her eight-month-old business, are indicative of a growing market for fresh, natural and elegant ice cream in urban India. She is now preparing to launch a second studio in Mumbai’s Kemps Corner, which will also have a few chairs for people to sit and watch ice cream being made as they eat it.
As she laments that her Blue Cheese Honey continues to get mixed reviews (“People don’t get it”), I’m reminded that a year and a half ago, I had been assaulted by an ingenious flavour born of a collaboration between another pioneering boutique ice-cream brand from Mumbai, Sucres Des Terres, and a local cheese maker, The Spotted Cow Fromagerie. It was a cheese board interpreted as dessert: immoderately creamy Camembert ice cream with bits of toasted nuts and dried apricot for relief. I ate two gelatos a day over two weeks in Venice last summer and I would still pick this as one of the single most interesting things I’ve ever tasted (Sucres Des Terres makes this flavour, called Camembaby Take Me Higher, at four days’ notice).
Bono is the new entrant in a list that includes not just Sucres Des Terres but also The Parfait Co. (Mumbai), Minus 30 (Delhi) and Amadora (Chennai). Even Bhane, a contemporary clothing store in Delhi’s Mehar Chand Market, is scooping out cute ice-cream flavours on the side. Consider trying a Peanut Butter Jelly cone after you try on those tapered khakis.
Ice cream, like pastry, is technique-intensive. Many among the new crop of ice-cream entrepreneurs, including Chesson, have Le Cordon Bleu or other European culinary degrees. She shows me her fuchsia KitchenAid stand mixer (to put things in context: Supermodel Karlie Kloss has done several shoots with her cherry-red version) but the cool factor goes beyond the trendy machines and flavour pairings. They are all small, order-based operations, so they can successfully avoid preservatives and additives. Chesson prefers the French method and uses a custard base, and she makes only enough ice cream at a time to fill her 400-litre freezer. She sources hormone-free cow milk from a farm outside Mumbai, which I assume makes her ice cream more appealing to the large majority of women who have been asked to go off packaged dairy by their dermatologists.
I ask if the recent “ice-cream wars” between Amul and Hindustan Unilever Ltd brought more people her way. “I have no way to tell but people are definitely more conscious about the quality and provenance of what’s going into their desserts. You can’t always see the ingredients so you have to be able to trust the source,” she says.
After the entry of gelato, the proliferation of frozen yogurt chains and the brief excitement of stone-cut and nitrogen ice cream, fresh boutique ice cream does seem to be having a moment in the sun. Bono is priced at Rs675 for a 500ml tub; Sucres Des Terres is steeper, at Rs750-950. The costs may not be exorbitant but the flavours surely are. If all goes according to plan, Chesson might be serving up foie gras ice cream this summer.