A long list of once-humble grub has received the high-end treatment in recent years, with modern takes on meatloaf, mac and cheese, fried chicken and burgers appearing on the menus of some of the highest-regarded restaurants in the world. Now, it's time for ice cream's place in the sun - or rather on the list of trendy comfort foods.
In Europe, none other than Karl Lagerfeld recently directed a series of "mini-films" (more commonly known as commercials) for Magnum ice-cream bars. Yes, the stick-thin, stiff-collared, immaculately coiffed designer is shilling ice cream for Unilever, Magnum's parent company.
In New York, a members-only home-delivery club, MilkMade, is attracting a clientele of about 150 ice-cream buffs a month, each willing to pay $17 (U.S.) a pint. Flavours, including Peppery Peach and Honey Lavender Granola, are never repeated. Since Diana Hardeman developed it as a home business in 2009, the waiting list has grown to 1,500 and counting.
And in Ontario, trained chef Shelley Westgarth created Belly Ice Cream Company two years ago in Muskoka cottage country. After successfully selling her ice-cream concoctions at the local farmer's market for two seasons, she launched a wholesale business last fall. Westgarth's ice cream boasts unusual flavours, including sumac, roasted sweet potato, buttered Scotch whiskey and beer (a locally produced mocha porter).
"One of my top flavours is basil gelato and the only reason I did it was [because]the farmer next to me at the market had a whole bunch of it wilting on a hot day and couldn't do anything with it," Westgarth says. "I figured I would give it a try and, by the end of the summer, if I didn't have that basil ice cream, [people would]mutiny. I couldn't believe it."
Costing up to $15 a pint in stores, Westgarth's ice cream is double the price of a pint of Häagen-Dazs. But while it seems that many people are willing to pay almost anything for the latest twist on the treat, Westgarth says that she doesn't impose a "huge mark-up" on her offerings. "It's just not that expensive to produce," Westgarth says. "People seem to understand that when they read the ingredients label and see what's in it." In any case, Westgarth notes, high-end ice cream is following the trajectory of many (once) outré culinary trends, migrating from restaurants and markets into the corner grocery store.
For ice cream addicts, this can only be good news. Warm weather is around the corner and, besides, Karl approves.