Bartenders see more faces of adulthood than most of us would care to. Along with the toasts and emotional effervescence, there’s also the unquenchable thirst, the drinking to obliterate undesirable parts of us, the binge and the sour soul odor of belligerence.
Maybe that’s why one of the city’s top bartenders is launching a healthier, gourmet brand of Mexican ice cream. Going from booze to mole banana splits is a bit like going from the stripper pole to the “Hokey Pokey.” And for Ian Ward, who made his name by creating inventive cocktails at places like Whisnkladle, Searsucker and Puesto, that sounds like a great new direction.
Ward recently started writing a book about his own life in alcohol, and its inherent deleterious effects. He’s realized that life behind the bar just isn’t his one true calling.
So, with partner Andrew Schiff, owner of North Park’s successful gourmet peanut butter (and organic food) restaurant/company Spread, Ward will unveil Muy Bueno Coconut Ice Creams sometime around Memorial Day. They’ll start with an ice cream truck, then plan to expand into a brick-and-mortar and beyond.
Why ice cream?
Ward: We were sitting on the beach one day and an ice cream truck drove by—an Astrovan—and they were selling a ton. I thought “Why is there no good ice cream truck in San Diego?” We’re a beach town. Hearing the song and then running to get $1.25 from your mom and then chasing the truck down is one of my favorite memories. So I decided I was going to make it. It also came out of the book I started writing. I was going through the booze industry over and over again and going to AA meetings. Ice cream seemed like a healthy place to get a new start. If you told me I was going to own an ice cream truck as a kid, that’s something I could be proud of. If you told me, “One day you’re going to grow up and be a miserable bartender working for tips,” I’d be a little upset with myself.
Schiff: One of the reasons I started Spread was because I was the antithesis to the organic lifestyle. I had a bunch of nightclubs in New York City. I saw the darkest side that you could ever possibly see. Now I only “run to the light.” For me the challenge was to make something sexier, to blow people’s palates. When Ian came to me, ice cream just seemed like another canvas like peanut butter. Something that could be viewed as so mundane, but then you trick it out and take a healthier approach. It’s a completely different way of eating. Our ice cream will deliver electrolytes into people’s systems.
Electrolytes from the coconut milk?
Schiff: Yeah. We’re looking at a Mexican approach to Ben & Jerry’s. The focus is going to be Mexican-style flavors—horchata vanilla bean, mole ice cream banana splits, strawberry churro ice cream, Mexican wedding cake ice cream, Vera Cruz coffee, fried ice cream.
Schiff: There’s zero butterfat because it’s coconut-based, not dairy. So you don’t have any lactose problems. It’s vegan, and it’ll have so little sugar compared to other ice creams. The typical sugar in ice creams run in 20-24 grams per serving. Ours are running in the 8-10 range. That is a manifest difference in the approach.
Why not just stick with the addictive sugar-bomb ice cream model that’ll keep the consumers lined up around the block?
Schiff: The old way of thinking is, “Hey, if there are 84 grams of sugar in our ice cream, that’s OK. We’ll deal with the next generation later.” I mean, goddammit, if there’s going to be an ice cream truck why shouldn’t it be healthier? Kids should be able to go back week after week and not have diabetic fits and hospital visits. Moms can feel better. Everything’s going to be as local as possible. My restaurant has never had a delivery from one company since we opened—all the ingredients are either hand-picked by myself or grown hydroponically in our garden behind Spread. We currently grow 80 ingredients. It’ll be colorful, natural and beautiful. Our coconut milk is high quality, too.
Ian, does this mean you’re done with the booze industry?
Ward: No, I’m not done. It became a sense of who I am or who I’m identified as. I’ll never turn my back on that. It’s still what I do. With ice cream, it’s still developing flavor profiles. This is my penance. Doing something I believe in. Plus, we saw a hole in the market.
What about the truck itself?
Schiff: The truck is a standard ice cream truck, but it’s going to be tricked out. We’re going to be using flip paint. When this thing drives by you, it will literally be changing colors. If you don’t look at it, then you must’ve been looking the other way. Our approach to the auditory experience of the ice cream truck is going to be a reinvention. We’re going to take the ice cream truck song and remix it. It’s going to be so funked out and elegantly approached. Like jazz.
Why a food truck? San Diego’s not known for being too friendly to mobile food vendors.
Ward: It’s not really a food truck. It’s more of a mobile freezer. There’s no grease traps or fryers. Plus, how are you going to kill the ice cream man? That’s a ridiculous thing to get rid of.
Schiff: We won’t be the problem. We’re not going to be dumping our oil on people’s properties or creating various health hazards. This is the way ice cream has been delivered since the advent of time. I swear in Egypt there was an ice cream truck. Tutankhamun was like, ‘This is my favorite flavor, thanks so much.’”
So there might be some alcohol-influenced ice creams?
Schiff: Yesterday, Ian was sampling a new ice cream I made that’s called The Tequila Shot and you get the salt burst and the lime and you think you just did the shot of tequila. We have to be able to look at our fears and know you triumphed them.
Coconut water is the new holy nutrition savior. How come no one’s done this?
Because coconut is by far the hardest ingredient to make ice cream out of. It has a completely different freezing temperature. It doesn’t have the milk fat. But I understand the chemistry and have figured out the trick, because I’ve spent 10 to 12 years working with flavors in peanut butter and different ingredients. You have to know how the ingredients are going to react when they’re first made, and how they’ll react when they expand over the next 20 minutes, just like wine.
Where are you getting your coconuts? Not locally, obviously.
Ward: We’re talking to a friend right now who owns coconut farms in Thailand, so hopefully we’ll have our own farm.
What about organic?
Schiff: If this were from an FDA perspective, yes we’re organic because most of our ingredients are organic. But at some point, Little Timmy can’t afford a $15 scoop of ice cream. So we have to get ingredients that make sense for both organic and for our customers. The mission is to complete that to be 100 percent organic. The coconut water isn’t going to be organic. But you don’t have the same concerns you’d have with milk. With milk, the question is whether or not this cow had a good life, whether it hung out and ate some grass with its family or whether it’s been fed a ton of hormones and antibiotics and kept in a pen. The difference between organic and non-organic milk is the difference between eating poison or not. With coconuts, well, they’re not being put on conveyor belts and slaughtered.
We’re shooting for $5 to $8 a scoop with trimmings. One of the flavors is an interpretation of grandma’s mole—a mole banana split. Something like that is going to be $8.
And the toppings?
This isn’t going to be M&Ms and Gummi Bears. We’ll be looking at live, local honey. We’re trying to find locally a source for churros. Bee pollen. Whatever is literally day to day in season. French strawberries. Passionfuit. Someone is going to make organic Mexican wedding cake cookies for us. Little pieces of those, all hand done. Not out of a bag with a shell that’s meant to last 15 summers.