Rori Trovato doesn’t make gelato, despite the almost unassailable marketing genius of the rhyme, despite her Italian heritage. Instead, she’s making Rori’s Ice Cream, currently available by the pint at all Jeannine’s ($6.50, except for the chocolate at $7.25). You should care, because her ice cream is delicious—an uber-version of a product you always thought should be able to go to 11 but often paled to your creamy dreams.
Trovato isn’t someone who’s just learned to churn, either. A food industry veteran, she seems to have done a bit of everything in her career, from culinary school to being a private chef for celebs like Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson, Ellen Barkin, and Gabriel Byrne, from regular columns in O, The Oprah Magazine and Bon Appétit to writing her own cookbook, Dishing with Style (Random House/Clarkson Potter 2004).
The Independent recently talked to Trovato while she was spinning in cream to her latest batch.
So why ice cream? I’ve been a chef forever doing both pastry and savory and I’m one of those few who really can’t say I prefer one or the other. I never met a dessert that pleased more people than ice cream. I have the happiest job in the world — I can sit around and make ice cream all day. It’s just like a puppy in a lap. Second, you don’t have to have some sophisticated palate, you don’t have to know what a génoise is to enjoy ice cream. Third, it’s also mutigenerational — it can make a two-year-old happy and a 92-year-old happy. It’s really just selfish of me; it’s so much fun to make people so happy.
Why ice cream and not gelato? We’re very Italian, but … while ice cream has a higher fat content [than gelato] and it’s not as good for you, I felt it was somehow getting lost in the soft serve/gelato world. It’s also a pain in the ass to get approved to manufacture ice cream; gelato has fewer hoops, as you’re not dealing with eggs and pasteurization, so that’s one reason many make gelato. I haven’t tested this scientifically, but I think if you asked most people if they’d rather have ice cream or gelato, most would say ice cream. Those more calories, that more fat you’re consuming has virtue, it’s worth it. And I love the Americana factor to it.
What makes your ice cream different? The fact that we’re organic makes a really big difference. In produce, a lot of people can’t taste the difference, but with dairy it’s not just ethical, it’s a matter of taste. Ninety percent of ice cream is made with manufacturing cream, which is oddly thick. I use Straus [Family Creamery] cream, milk, and eggs. I’ve got to meet the cows in Marin, even. And it makes a huge difference.
How do you develop your flavor profiles? I first started out with the usual suspects. I was never really interested in the saffron-black pepper craze; I wanted flavors you’d want at two in the morning. So I worked on making the classics with a twist that wouldn’t scare people away. For example the Serious Dark Chocolate is made with seventy-two percent chocolate and some cocoa powder, while all commercial ice creams only use the powder. I really love malt balls, so thought, “Why don’t I do a malted milk ball ice cream with milk balls?”
With my Strawberry Cheesecake, I always felt strawberry ice cream was cloyingly sweet, so I added a little sour cream and cream cheese in there. Then you had to have a crust. So you get a satchel of graham cracker crust crumbs I’ve made when you buy a pint. The same is true with my seasonal cobbler flavors [apple in fall, stone fruit coming in spring]. For those you get a little bit of cobbler dough on the side. It’s real American flavors we know but not usually in an ice cream.
What are your future plans? My goal is to start small and land more and more wholesale accounts [Whole Foods might be on the horizon]. Then I can get a retail store here. Right now the risk does outweigh the revenue. In the meantime I’m working on some carts and trucks next. While the Farmers Market won’t let me be in there since they don’t allow finished products, that doesn’t mean I can’t be one of those crazy loons that goes around the market with a cart. I’m working on those details with the Health Board. And then there’s the Burger Bus—I’m such a fan of them and their initiative bringing this truck culture from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, it’s great. I’d like to do that, too.
You can scream for Rori’s Ice Cream by the pint at all four Jeannine’s locations: 1253 Coast Village Road, Montecito; 15 East Figueroa Street; 3607 State Street; and in Gelson’s Market, 3305 State Street. It will soon be available by the scoop at the Figueroa Street location.