We are currently in the thick of ice cream season, and I'm so excited to share my interview with the co-founders of Phin & Phebes, the Brooklyn based ice cream company I am obsessed with. Their genius flavors include Vietnamese Iced Coffee and Banana Whama, which tastes just like banana pudding (and is almost impossible to stop eating).
Here are their answers to some of my questions about being a new food business, eating in Brooklyn, and creating some of the most delicious ice cream flavors yet!
What are the best and worst parts of creating and testing flavors--and how does the process go in general? What have been some highlights along the way? Do you have any future flavors in the works right now?
- The best part of creating and testing flavors is the fun that the creative process brings; the brainstorming, the flavor pairing and seeing how things really turn out when they go from your head to real ice cream. The challenging part sometimes is finding the right, high-quality ingredients to source in order to actually make the creations that come from our heads. Since there are certain ingredients we don't use it does limit what we're able to find.
- The biggest reward is when you taste a flavor prototype and it's just awesome. Our process is pretty straightforward: brainstorm flavor ideas, pick ones to move forward, source ingredients (first on a small scale, like the grocery store), prototype as many times as it takes to get the flavor just right (anywhere from five to 15). If we move forward with a flavor we'll figure out where to source all the ingredients on a larger scale (and we usually have some idea of this going into it). Sometimes flavor concepts get dropped because they just don't turn out like we thought they would or ingredients are too hard to source.
- Highlights along the way: seeing and understanding how some ingredients like spices for example scale in a flavor. For most recipes we use simple math to turn a two quart recipe into a 300 gallon recipe. Spices however have a multiplying effect in food; you can't use the same math to scale up the amount of spice you use because spices don't proportionally scale, they get stronger. We learned this the first time we made our Vietnamese Iced Coffee flavor; we scaled the spice portion of the recipe proportionally and it was way too strong!
Is there anything surprising/notable you have learned from your experience starting up an ice cream company? How is the community of Brooklyn food businesses?
- Most people assume that since we are in the ice cream business that we must have a scoop shop. This is completely fair assumption but we don't and I don't think we anticipated this.
- The Brooklyn food business community is wonderful and I'd even extend that to the food business community in general. We go to a lot of trade shows and meeting other people with food businesses and sharing experiences is one of the best parts of the shows. We make a lot of friends and end up seeing the same people at all the shows and it's just wonderful.
What is your philosophy for making up flavors? Do you have any criteria that every flavor must meet?
- Our focus is on flavor combinations. We like to take something that you might be familiar with and make it new again, put our own unique spin on it. So for example, instead of coffee ice cream we make Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream. Our goal is to recreate the experience of tasting ice cream again for the first time, like you did as a child. The other big part of our philosophy is balance. Any flavor we create must strike the perfect balance of flavor, just the right amount of sweetness and ingredients to create a uniform but exciting flavor experience.
Phin & Phebes is based in Brooklyn--where are your favorite places to eat in that borough right now? In the city in general? Are there any places in the city you look for flavor inspiration?
- We are definitely inspired by things we eat and by particular ingredients. We love Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cinnamon so we found a way to make it a highlight in one of our flavors (Vanilla Cinnamon). We were obsessed with Vietnamese Iced Coffees for a long time so we turned it into an ice cream flavor. Our Dark Chocolate Salty Caramel ice cream is inspired by one of our favorite desserts from one of our favorite restaurants, Marlow & Sons. We look for flavor inspiration everywhere and in everything we eat. Inspiration can come from the least likely of places. Right now we're loving Bunker (Vietnamese) and just discovered the best little Italian spot in East Williamsburg, IL Passatore. Some of our standbys include Marlow & Sons, Diner, Vinegar Hill House and Handsome Hanks Shrimp (at the Flea). We love cheap eats too like Rainbow Falafal and Shake Shack (if that can be considered cheap).