Liquid Nitrogen Gelato that’s culturally cool and cosmopolitan
A dream he dreamed, he dreamed a wacky ice cream – turned liquid nitrogen gelato – dream. And it’s a lot of smoke without mirrors. A shroud of smoke that is, as you walk by the mad scientist hub-like quarters that is N2 Extreme Gelato. But the 27-year-old behind the adult-themed gelato-for-discussion-as-much-as-consumption-concept is anything but an Alfred Nobel, dynamite flavours aside.
A former accountant, Founder Min Chai (MC) says he grew bored of office work and wanted to do something he enjoyed. “I always wanted an ice cream shop.” A fan of the frozen, creamy stuff himself, Min Chai observed that parlours scooped up the same thing, relying on artificial colours, flavours and safe varieties.
So, he took a side-step in the direction of the culinary avant-garde. He started experimenting with liquid nitrogen, not just for fast freeze and aesthetic novel, but bold taste and smooth texture. Min Chai says he began with ordinary ice cream flavours, such as Stock Standard Strawberry and Very Boring Vanilla. He then combined ingredients in strange and exotic ways to create unheard of flavours. Cough Syrup or Cigar Smoked Hainanese Coffee anyone?
The result: Funky and off-the-wall flavours that relish your taste buds as much as they raise an eyebrow, induce a chuckle or elicit a question or two. 2 Girls 1 Cup you say? And what’s that about Geisha’s Milk and Cheesy Fore? The ordinary-turned-extraordinary also abounds at this only five-and-a-half-months old establishment. Try Chocolate Nibbles, Kinky Vanilla or the popular Buttered Caramel if spicy, savoury, crazy (?!?!?) flavours like Thai Basil, Salt and Pepper Calamari or Fish Gelato are just too out there for you.
But out there is where it’s at, at least according to Weber Shandwick’s 2013 food trends report (Food Forward 2013). It states that “natural sweet and savoury flavours will be combined to create new taste sensations for an evolving Aussie palate, with a growing desire to taste real flavours of food untarnished by excess sugar and salt.”
Now, there’s definitely sugar in N2 Extreme’s gelato. Any ice cream would be slide-off-the-cone melt-worthy if there was no sweet, crystallized stuff. However, N2 uses natural ingredients too, such as real mango, avocado, mint and green tea. All are combined in daring ways to create a spank of heightened varieties and flavours.
And Min Chai’s sense of flavour intuition is further on cue with alcohol-infused varieties like Sleazy Strawberry and Peñile Colada. According to PreGel AMERICA, boozy-desserts surged in 2012 and will continue to do so in 2013. Interestingly, Min Chai says it’s trips to the supermarket with his Chemical Engineer à la Chef, “random events” and childhood memories – not trends – that give birth to N2’s flavours.
And creative accidents give way to genius wonders too. Referring to the time he ran a blender the entire night, Min Chai says, “The machine broke down in the process. The milk fat and sugar caramelized. It was soft, caramel and butter, like butter caramel. From there, we experimented and got Earl Grey Caramel.”
But what’s in good or popular taste really comes down to you and me . So, I asked a couple of ice (s)creamers what they thought. “It’s good. A bit confusing. It’s ice cream, but tastes like a doughnut,” says one girl in a trio. And Australian resident Kalvin: “Very funky. [It’s] a very innovative way to enjoy a very different combination of flavours. An unusual combination of flavours that work well together.”
For myself, it’s unique, creative and most importantly, bang-on sa-weet! Flavour Jam Donutz is exactly the taste of a plain, cake-y doughnut with a dollop of plum jam. I am back in the 80’s: It’s after school hours and mom offers me a doughnut from the canteen at work. Earl Grey Caramel takes me home yet again. This time to Gerrard St. East (Little India) in Toronto, where mom and I buy kulfi on a stick and mithai. I am die hard chocolate ice cream only no more and it doesn’t just taste good, it feels nostalgically great.
And that’s exactly how Min Chai and the N2 team challenge the conventional palate. By breaking the safe flavour barrier, the unfamiliar is made familiar in a way you could never have predicted. And if your N2 encounter turns out to be something you’ve never tasted or experienced before, then you’ve been given the gift of a new and sweet, creamy memory, frozen in time.