Everyone loves ice cream, and all the better when it incorporates components that amp up the science “wow” factor in a big and fun show. Around here, that means Robyn Sue Fisher, who is the founder of Smitten Ice Cream, started out of an (adorable) red Radio Flyer wagon. She's outgrew the wagon, though, and set up shop in a stylish shipping container in Hayes Valley. Fisher has now expanded and recently opened a new outpost of Smitten in the Whole Foods Market in Los Altos and has plans to open in Rockridge in April and Lafayette further east in May.
At Smitten, Fisher and her crew of Brristas create velvety creamy batches of remarkably tasty desserts in a matter of three minutes with the use of liquid nitrogen. For many, the show is as much fun as eating the results. There are gourmet flavors from salted caramel (still very much a trend) to the seasonal blood orange with pistachio shortbread to Meyer lemon to fresh mint that is miles away from the bright green sweets of yesteryear. Bay Area Bites caught up with Fisher to find out what’s new and what’s in store for ice cream (and science) fans.
Bay Area Bites: Congratulations on opening in Los Altos. Next, you’ll have spots in Rockridge & Lafayette. What has the expansion process been like?
Fisher: It's been really exciting. We have built an awesome team to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row. We have been working for several years on our next generation Brrr(TM) machine -- our one-of-a-kind patented ice cream churning machine that makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen to create the freshest and smoothest ice cream on earth. And we'll have six of these Brrr machines in each new location so that we can have six made-to-order flavors each day, rather than four at Hayes Valley. Our amazing pastry chef, Robyn Lenzi, has also been working on some fun and super tasty new products, such as our Brrrgers (i.e., homemade Brioche ice cream sandwiches, which look like mini ice cream burgers).
We have also been working with an awesome team of architects to design our new locations so that they have a really unique and special feel -- sticking with our roots but taking it one step further and bringing it to a brick and mortar location. The new Smitten Ice Cream shops definitely make the Hayes Valley location look like a kiosk, as the new shops are more than three times bigger and are ready to make even more people smitten with made-to-order scoops and homemade pairings (i.e., toppings)!
Bay Area Bites: The use of liquid nitrogen means you get the ice cream to a customer after 90 seconds of brrr cold. How do you get the product to still be so creamy?
Fisher: Our patented Brrr machines (literally invented by my team and I in a basement shop and prototyped on the streets of San Francisco out of our Radio Flyer Wagon) are specially designed to make the creamiest scoop possible. The Brrr machine uses liquid nitrogen, which is -321 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing the ice cream at such a low temperature and with the special patented helical mixing blades creates exceptionally small ice crystals. These small ice crystals are why our product is smoother and creamier than any other ice cream out there. Our Brrr machine also has patented software that senses viscosity to ensure the ice cream has the perfect texture.
Bay Area Bites: Is the ice cream set up different for your new locations? What tools do you use?
Fisher: Our new locations have six of our next generation Brrr machines. These next generation machines churn more ice cream at one time and do so quicker. The six Brrr machines allow us to serve six flavors, rather than four.
Bay Area Bites: Where do you get your recipes? What are the best sellers?
Fisher: Our awesome pastry chef, Robyn Lenzi, creates all of our recipes from the finest ingredients in the Bay Area. Our best sellers are our salted caramel; our fresh mint chip, which is made with fresh organic mint, rather than extract, and homemade chocolate chips; and our seasonal flavors, which are made with fresh, organic, just picked local fruit (e.g., blood orange with pistachio shortbread in March rhubarb crisp in April, and strawberry white balsamic in May).
Bay Area Bites: Why did you start making ice cream? What sorts of sweets did you grow up with?
Fisher: Ice cream has always been the food I loved most, and I wanted to take that product I loved and make it even better. I was bothered that ice cream, in today's "modern" day and age, had become laden with preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilizers to last throughout the labyrinth distribution chain from production to end consumer. I wanted to take all of that away and make every batch of ice cream to-order with only fresh, pure ingredients. With our unique production technique, we could throw all of the compromises and sacrifices out the window and focus only on taste.
Ice cream has ALWAYS been my favorite sweet. My mom used to say that I had two stomachs, and one was solely reserved for ice cream. I still believe that!