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The Da Vinci of Ice Cream

  • Author:
  • Updated: August 29, 2016
  • Published August 29, 2016

(Rejoy Armamento / Alaska Dispatch News)

Elissa Brown's cookbook is a mess.

Not because it's blemished with ingredients, but because it's really more a scientific logbook than step-by-step instructions.

Her pages read more like mad scientist scribbles—many of the recipes have annotations, percentages for various trials, equations and notes about controlling the variables in her experiments.

Though they don't make much sense to the untrained eye, for Brown they are key to the success of her inventive ice cream company, Wild Scoops.

Hidden in that tome are all the one-of-a-kind ice cream varieties. It's where flavor names are hatched and where she keeps notes on the communities that sample her creations.

The Flavor Artist

When Brown and her partner Chris Pike said they were starting an ice cream business in Alaska, people asked if that was the punchline to a joke.

Others were a little more encouraging and quick to tell them that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state. While Brown said she isn't sure if that statistic is accurate, she's running with it.

"The Alaskan pride is so, so strong and we wanted to tap into that," Brown said. "At the heart, this business is about making a unique product that people in Alaska are proud of the fact that it's made here and proud that it stars Alaskan ingredients."

To do so, the duo sought out flavors that evoke a sense of Alaska, even if they're unconventional. Brown has added everything from spruce tips to birch syrup and made bases from local craft beers and coffee beans.     

And she's given them names with special meaning to those with 907 area codes, like Sitka Swirl, featuring a salted caramel swirl and Redoubts Revenge, a concoction that mixes chocolate ice cream, cayenne, cinnamon and chocolate shards.

"I like Redoubts Revenge because it's so surprising and delightful," Brown said. "Because of the ingredients you get these hot and cold sensations all at once."

Other unique flavors have included ingredients like potato chip toffee and chocolate; donuts and jam; thyme, honey, butterscotch and cashews; beets and oranges; and cranberry, merlot and white chocolate.

Though the company is only a little over a year old, the brazen flavors have already garnered Wild Scoops a cult following. Brown said one of the most popular flavors last summer was a tribute to Alaska salmon, called Ship Creek Sriracha. The sweet cream treat swirled Sriracha, honey and lime and was topped with a red Swedish Fish candy.

For Brown anything can be fodder for a potential future flavor. From tweaking recipes she's found  while browsing cookbooks—a strawberry, feta and balsamic vinegar salad became a strawberry balsamic ice cream—to strolling through the candle aisle where a tangerine and lavender candle sparked an idea for a flavor combination, it's all inspiration.

Brown said she has a fairly good instinct for what will work, it's just a matter of tinkering around with the recipe to get it right.

"I think, 'What if I put lavender in or what if I put in this berry? Or what if I try swirling this as opposed to pureeing this as opposed to chopping this? How would it make this different?'" Brown said. It all goes in her notes.

Often, Brown will run controlled tests of the ice creams, focusing on certain variables to isolate the best possible outcome.

The Scientist

Before Brown was an ice cream flavorologist and entrepreneur, she made a living teaching middle school science in North Carolina.

"I used to tell my students that being a scientist and understanding science is so much about questioning what's around you and experimenting and taking risks," Brown said. "I actually had a quote from Richard Buckminster Fuller that goes, 'There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes,' hanging in my classroom and that was our mantra for the year."

Now that sign hangs in the kitchen space she rents in the back of Mad Myrna's to remind her that if something doesn't come out the way she expects it to, she shouldn't get discouraged. Instead, she'll scribble some more in her log and try again.

"A really good scientist experiments and takes risks that they don't know will work or not," Brown said. "That's the best chance of discovering something great and new." 

Brown thinks a lot about how Wild Scoops fits into the grand ecosystem of Anchorage.

"We ask ourselves, 'In an ideal ecosystem, how would an ice cream company fit in?'" Brown said. "How would it interact with the growers and small businesses, with the schools and the non-profits, and with the people in the area?"

The Community Advocate

Wild Scoops' lengthy list of craft ice cream concoctions reads like an playbill, sharing the spotlight with others from the Alaska foodie scene. Bakeries, breweries, distilleries, coffee roasters, chocolatiers and farmers names are listed alongside the bold flavors Wild Scoops is known for dishing out.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company's "Barfly" stout has been blended with chipotle nuts. An Earl Grey tea from Summit Tea & Spice Co. was swirled with locally sourced black currants. A matcha powder, also from Summit Tea & Spice Co., met peanut brittle and wasabi. VanderWeele Farm pumpkins joined with homemade gingerbread chunks. Black Cup Coffee has been enhanced with decadent fudge and toffee bits. And a variety of flavors have been sandwiched between Sweet Caribou macarons.

Brown and Pike have made it a point to work with as many Alaska businesses as possible.

"It's become a game for us to stroll around the farmer's market and buy from as many vendors as we could," Brown said.

Just last summer, their first at the market, they bought mint, thyme, sage, various berry varieties, sweet corn, rhubarb, pumpkins and other produce from neighboring stands (in addition to partnering with other businesses), so it produced a hefty list of flavors. That was just the start.

"We're always looking for ways to get involved with other creators and growers," Brown said.

For now the duo are selling pints at the La Bodega at the Metro Mall location and Summit Tea & Spice Co. in Anchorage, Flying Squirrel in Talkeetna and Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. They also scoop cups and cones at the South Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University farmer's markets, as well as the Tuesday Lunch on the Lawn series at the Anchorage Museum. Eventually, the plan is to open a storefront for people to come and congregate.

"I've found that ice cream really builds community," Brown said. "It has this awesome power to draw people together."

This article was originally published in 61°North – The Arts Issue. Contact the editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com.

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