The days of ordering plain vanilla ice cream might be numbered. With virtually every middle-class British high street now housing a gelateria (that’s posh, Ok Italian, for ice cream parlour) purveying weird and Wonka-ish flavours from balsamic vinegar to coronation chicken, it can be hard to keep up with the gastronomic innovations currently assaulting sugar and cream.
Who could forget last year’s breast milk ice cream saga? The offending item was seized by Westminster Council worried that mothers’ milk might breach health and safety regulations. Heston Blumenthal (naturally) took inspiration from Spanish restaurant El Bulli’s parmesan ice cream, bringing his range of mustard flavour ices to the masses via Waitrose supermarket.
You can now choose from beetroot or crab sorbet, parsnip and wasabi and smoked oil and black pepper ice creams, even cigar-smoke caramel flavour for those nicotine addicts needing a sugar fix. But as if all this weren’t baffling and exciting enough there is a new kid in town: ice cream entrepreneur Charlie Harry Francis.
The 27-year-old knows a thing or two about ice cream having been born and raised on an ice cream farm in Wales. Two years ago he designed a contraption for creating instant ice cream, winning himself a £50,000 Barclays One Small Step competition in the process. His business (the modestly titled Lick Me I’m Delicious) is conjuring bespoke flavours in under a minute for guests at weddings, parties and corporate events. Quite simply, if it's edible (and available) he'll turn it into ice cream for you in under a minute.
“As a kid I loved that pudding where you mix different ice cream flavours together until it all goes really sloppy and then I’d put in all sorts of things my mother baked, like flapjacks and brownies, and make my own creations. Even then I wanted a way of making any flavour of ice cream. That was my aim,” he said.
But having achieved that aim, using a liquid nitrogen injection system that causes things to freeze rapidly and any materials thrown into the cream and sugar mixture to shatter into lots of pieces, bringing colour and flavour, he decided to start branch out. And for Francis, who hails “fun” as the most important ingredient of business, branching out means spinning ice cream on a potter’s wheel.
“It came out of a very bizarre conversation I had with this chap at a party,” Francis recalls. “He was a potter and I asked if he thought you could throw ice cream on a potter’s wheel. He said yes, which I didn’t really expect. He’s a ceramic artist based at Bath Spa University and so we took my ice cream contraption there and started throwing some pots, which bizarrely seemed to work.”
Francis has since developed a liquid nitrogen injection buggy (“It’s made from an airplane, an old plough and bits of fire engine. Top speeds of 6 miles per hour”) and is in the process of developing the world’s first glow in the dark ice cream using protein from jelly fish: “It works with neutral PH, so the glow is inactive until you lick it”.
Like the Jellymongers Bompas and Parr, Francis is interested in the theatre of food. His aspiration, he says, is to become the maker “of confectionary contraptions” as well as ice cream. And with a team of engineers helping him build all manner of creative machinery, who knows what he’ll produce next. Shame there aren't any Oompa Loompas to help.
Charlie Harry Francis will be serving up ice cream pottery at the Experimental Food Society Banquet on Monday 19 November 2012; www.experimentalfoodsociety.com