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Eleanor Chow of Chambar in Vancouver has experimented with a caramelized onion ice cream. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)
Eleanor Chow of Chambar in Vancouver has experimented with a caramelized onion ice cream. (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)

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As the pastry chef at Vancouver's Chambar restaurant, Eleanor Chow has experimented with plenty of wild ice cream flavours. She has caramelized onions to make a sweet onion ice cream. Another time, her friend made a meaty ice cream with duck.

Lately, though, Ms. Chow has returned to the classics: chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, rum raisin with candied pecans, and maple and candied walnut.

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"In the end, I think ice cream is all about keeping it really simple and going back to the old-school flavours when you were a kid," she says, adding, "Weird ice creams are weird. They freak me out a little bit."

Yet while Ms. Chow is among many ice cream makers who are rediscovering traditional favourites, others are pushing the envelope, introducing ever-more innovative offerings like pear parmesan, tomato basil and crème fraîche.

At ice cream counters this summer, customers may find themselves choosing between two camps: the retro versus the exotic. While nostalgia has prompted a resurgence of the likes of tiger tail, bubble gum and rainbow, more adventuresome palates may find themselves testing out such flavours as beer, buttered popcorn and beyond.

This summer, The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, Del., introduced a "booger" ice cream, inspired by Jelly Belly's gross-out line of candy beans. The green ice cream reportedly tastes of cake batter with swirls of caramel and pieces of Lucky Charms marshmallows. The store is known for such flavours as chocolate Jack Daniels and buttery salted caramel.



Try some Maple Walnut-flavoured ice cream from Chambar Belgian Restaurant in Vancouver.

Further stretching the imagination, San Francisco ice cream parlour Humphry Slocombe has garnered plenty of press for avant-garde flavours like salted licorice, Boccalone prosciutto and foie gras.

Meanwhile, U.K. ice cream maker Fredericks - whose previous inventions include salad cream and pizza ice creams - has introduced a new fish and chips sundae this summer made of creamed cod ice cream in vanilla and pepper batter, served atop potato ice cream "chips" with salt and vinegar seasoning.

"The flavours that people want are getting a little more exotic," says Ed Francis of Ed's Real Scoop in Toronto, which produces creative flavours like burnt marshmallow, red hot chili chocolate, and a special occasion Guinness ice cream.

"People now, instead of strawberry, they'll want a strawberry balsamic. Or instead of straight pear, we do a pear sorbet and sometimes we take some parmesan cheese and grate it in so it's pear with parmesan."

At Vancouver's Maenam restaurant, chef Angus An also experiments with new ice cream combinations to complement his Thai menu. While he notes that he doesn't go as far as serving curry-flavoured ice cream, he does like to kick things up a notch. For example, a lychee sorbet might be infused with jasmine tea, while pear sorbet might be spun into a more exciting spiced pear.

"I wouldn't necessarily use the word 'challenge' because I don't want to challenge the guests," Mr. An says of his ice cream style. "But it's more or less like introducing them to some things that they may have thought interesting but never tried before."

As an ice cream traditionalist, Ms. Chow says she can appreciate exotic - and even the downright bizarre - offerings, but "personally, I'm over it. I know what I want in an ice cream: It's sweet and good and creamy."

Food distributor Loblaw is betting on the revival of old-school tastes this summer. Its President's Choice brand has launched a line-up of nostalgia-inspired flavours, such as tiger tail, cotton candy and sprinkle party cake.

Sita Kacker, product developer for Loblaw brands, says the President's Choice ice cream line fits in with a general longing for a simpler, bygone era.

"I think it's the whole idea of how comfort is back in, and kind of like escaping reality," she says.

At Mario's Gelati in Vancouver, nostalgia is certainly bringing flavours like key lime pie and pink bubble gum back in vogue, says operations manager Kyra Penman.

For years, Mario's has been known for its zany ice cream flavours, such as garlic, Dijon mustard, ouzo, and tomato basil, which are generally custom-made for hotels and restaurants. ("Honestly, if you can think of it, we've probably made it at some point," Ms. Penman says.)

But people generally wind up choosing the ice cream flavour they love, she says.

"I think people are curious and when we put a crazy flavour out they will try it," she says. Whether they buy it is another matter. "A lot of people want to taste the sample, and then will go back to [saying]'Well, I'll take vanilla.' "

 

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