It’s summer: we’re screaming for ice cream! This month, we asked our favorite ice cream experts to share their most-loved ice cream combos and how-to tips — see them all, then share your own on Instagram with the hashtag #icecreamsocial and tag @williamssonoma to join the fun. We’ll regram and share our favorites!
Meet Natasha Case, co-founder of Coolhaus, which operates a fleet of mobile ice cream trucks and two Southern California storefronts. Her ice creams, ice cream sandwiches and hand-dipped bars in unique, sweet-meets-savory flavors (more on that below). Read on to learn about her story, her ultimate ice cream sandwich, and her best tips for building an over-the-top ice cream sundae!
Tell us about your background and how you got started.
I have formal training as an architect (undergraduate from UC Berkeley and graduate from UCLA), and I became fascinated by this idea of using food to talk about design (a concept I called “Farchitecture = Food + Architecture”) and really open the conversation about design to the public — make it fun and accessible. I started creating different products and experiences under this umbrella concept — one of the first to manifest was “Coolhaus,” a triple entendre after the Bauhaus movement, Rem Koolhaas (my favorite architect), and because the sandwiches look like little cold houses. Not bad, right? The project really resonated with people, and Freya Estreller, my business partner, shared the vision of success with me, plus brought a business background into the mix.
Why ice cream? What do you love about it?
I love how ice cream has such a broad appeal, the nostalgic quality it triggers, and what an incredible canvas it is for experimentation. In terms of the broad appeal — there are an infinite amount of flavors, and as tastes and minds open as to what dessert can be, there are only infinitely more possibilities to bring salty, savory, boozy, spicy, fermented, acid into the fold. So, there’s something for everybody (in fact we have 90 ice creams in rotation to choose from!). To the nostalgic point, I find ice cream brings out the inner five-year-old in all of us, but also now with the way we push the envelope with our ice cream [and cookies... and other products like bars, pints, chocolate candy bars and milkshakes] it has also become this adult, sophisticated food. It’s a funny “bifurcation,” as we would say in architecture.
Can you share any of your favorite ice cream memories from childhood?
I would say eating ice cream on Martha’s Vineyard (where we would vacation every summer) at a place called Mad Martha’s, holds a special place in my food memory. Growing up in LA in the ’90s, we didn’t always have full butterfat or cream-based ice cream at our fingertips. When I got that scoop of Mad Martha’s full-fat, fresh-churned ice cream and took a bite, I knew I had the real deal.
Why is summer the best time for ice cream?
There is something about summer and beach, salt in the air, burning energy being outdoors-y and active, that creates that intense ice cream craving, and pursuant satisfaction. There are also so many great seasonal ingredients specific to summer that are classic for ice cream concoctions: strawberry, apricots, berries, cherries, chiles, melon, mangoes, lemongrass, and corn (that’s right, we do a Sweet Corn & Blueberry ice cream! Like cornbread heaven in ice cream form…).
Do you incorporate seasonal flavors/ingredients into your ice cream?
Absolutely! Incorporating seasonal flavors and ingredients is the best way to maximize flavor and support sustainable, responsible sourcing and production. It’s also a fun way to keep customers and clients on the edge of their seat wondering what is next as flavors rotate in and out.
How do your tastes change with the seasons?
There are many subtleties that change with the season. I find the winter is best for brown-based spirits boozy ice cream (for example bourbon, whisky and rum — so Bourbon Pecan Pie ice cream and Bananas Foster ice cream). In the summer, our flavors with clear spirits sell great, like Strawberry Mojito sorbet with white rum and White Russian ice cream with vodka. Also, summer is best for spicy-ness, while spring is best for tart and acidity, in my opinion. It’s incredible how a year of seasonality and taste can create a full spectrum of palate satisfaction.
What are some of the craziest ice cream combinations you’ve made?
Fried Chicken & Waffles ice cream, Peking Duck ice cream, White Chocolate & Olive ice cream, Chocolate Chipotle BBQ ice cream, and Pistachio Black Truffle ice cream.
Are there any flavors you’ve tried that really didn’t work?
Yes, unfortunately. At one point, we made a misguided attempt at Waldorf salad ice cream—blue cheese-base ice cream with caramelized apples and walnuts (it could have worked, right?). The smell of the blue cheese base was putrid! It almost could have worked paired with steak, though!
Any interesting trends you’ve seen lately?
I’ve seen a lot of really interesting uses of vinegars, particularly Asian vinegars like mirin and palm, that I think are and would be interesting paired with fruit, like pear. Navy strength rums (dark rums) are having a major comeback and are awesome and complex in ice creams. I would say, in general, acidic contrast is very in — fermented things with sweetness (kombucha, sake) are always so fantastic and nourishing.
What’s your most popular flavor?
Fried Chicken & Waffles ice cream, Dirty Mint Chip ice cream, Whiskey Lucky Charms ice cream, Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone ice cream, and Salted Caramel ice cream. Our Gluten-free Coconut Almond Chip cookie is one of our top sellers right now too.
If you could only have one flavor for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone… it’s like a complete meal!
What’s in your freezer at home?
Our “Mies Vanilla Rohe” hand-dipped ice cream bars (Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream dipped in Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate & Pretzels, now available in grocery stores nationwide!), a pint of our Salted Caramel ice cream, frozen Boeuf Bourguignon (we like one-pot meals at our place), frozen berries (great for sorbet!), different sizes and shapes of ice cubes for a range of cocktail creations (I’m a serious at-home bartender), and a chilling martini glass.
Any tips for building the ultimate ice cream sundae?
Work in layers — and each layer should provide not only different flavor, but texture — and hit a different part of the palate. For example, start with our Snack Food Chip cookie for saltiness, then a Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream scoop for refreshing flavor, then Fried Chicken Caramel for savory and spice, then a touch of our Bacon Salt for more savory and salt, then add toffee or our chocolate candy crumbles for crunch!
How has your local community been a part of your business?
Community is huge for us. Beginning with the trucks, we were able to “pop-up” in and be part of so many different neighborhoods and communities. The truck belongs to everyone and anyone who wants to take part in experiencing its delicious ice cream creations. Our stores (Culver City Arts District and Old Town Pasadena) are majorly tied to the community — both communities have been unbelievably supportive of our locations and their connection to the neighborhood. Particularly Culver City, I think, was surprised to get such a gourmet, artisan ice cream shop on a block with little to no foot traffic, but we made it a destination, and a lot of great new shops have opened since we did in 2011. Lastly, by being sold at 2,000+ grocery stores like Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Gelson’s, Fresh Direct, Gourmet Garage, and Fairway means you are part of many of the communities that the markets belong to. We do demos and bring trucks to those markets, and in certain cases, we are connected to some of the lead management at those grocery stores. For example, we were asked to get on stage with Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, and talk about our story of working with Whole Foods at a UCLA restaurant conference. It was an incredible experience!
What’s the best thing about your job?
The people I work with, both within the Coolhaus team and how the business/brand has connected me to so many others outside of my business as well — clients, journalists, engaged couples, women entrepreneurs, industry leaders, vendors, contractors, interns — it’s unbelievable the way Coolhaus has opened up the world for me. It’s inspiring and each day brings a new spirit of excitement and possibility, and I get to make all these people happy by eating our ice cream everyday!