Just when you thought you knew everything about ice cream something new has popped up, well the concept of Thai-style fried ice cream made on a fry-top where you ‘cook’ sweet creams and fruit and texture components to create custom ice cream is new for Nelson but is very popular in many Asian countries.
A couple of weeks ago I met with Jon Alexander from Frozen Rolled Ice Cream in Hardy Street on the entrance to the Marble Arch Arcade to find out more about this delicious treat and about the very popular bubble tea they make and sell.
Jon told me the frozen rolled ice cream product produced on a fry-top is very popular in Thailand where it has been a favourite for about 25 to 30 years. “It started because in small markets they don’t have space for a big freezer full of different ice cream flavours, so they turned to the technique of mixing the ice cream components on a frozen surface”.
Jon is a furniture designer and cabinet maker by qualification and it’s a trade he pursued in different parts of the world for many years, so how did he end up creating these bespoke ice creams in Nelson?
He was born in London, emigrated to NZ when he was ten and one of his first enterprises was restoring antiques for local antiques legend, Ron Warwick of Cabbage and Kings, who took a young 15 year old Jon under his wing and showed him the ropes.
He left on his OE when I was 18 and didn’t come back for about 27 years, initially it was off to London where he became a cabinet maker for Zeno Designs and was sent to the London College of Furniture where he qualified as a furniture designer before moving to America.
“I basically spent a life time in furniture in America where I had my own design company – Alexander Designs.”
While the core of his design business was corporate design, including making furniture, he also had a strong private clientele and “played with figurative sculpture as a hobby” and it was this sculpture that became the focus for his art gallery when he returned to Nelson.
“Towards the end of my 27 years away someone saw my sculpture work and I got a commission for some major sculptural pieces for the Grand Princess cruise ship that was being built for P&O.
“After installing it in the ship yard in Italy I went back to America to start a new life as a sculptor but decided it was time to come home, I left America the day before 911, arrived here the day after and opened Venus Envy, an erotic art gallery, in the old Friar Tuck shop in Hardy Street.”
Jon returned to the USA in 2008, “I created large interior architectural elements for European Wax franchises, luckily it took off, so I spent the next decade making large Alhambra brick arches from my molds.
“I never became an American, New Zealand was always my home and I knew I would come back here one day, Mr Trump brought that forward a few years.”
He returned to Nelson again in January 2018 and “my step father, who is local accountant Hugh Neill, asked me what I was going to do, design furniture or sculpt? I said what I really want to do is make ice cream, I wanted to do something different, I wanted to put smiles on children’s faces as well as offering something quite different for adults.”
He had seen this concept in Arizona, “my workers worked outside in the unbelievably hot sun so I made Mexican ice lollies called Paleta (Pa-La-Ta) for them, Paleta are frozen fruit ice lollies and they may appear on the menu at Frozen Rolled Ice Cream sometime in the future.
“When I got here I bought a fry-top for home and over a period of time assaulted all of my friends with various ice creams, while I’m self-taught my close friend, Gail Ruansook, went to Thailand and trained in Fried Ice Cream, she is the expert.”
So how does he make his delicious frozen treats? Firstly everything is made entirely in-house where possible, obviously he has to buy ingredients but the ice cream base and tea blends are made fresh to their own recipes each day.
“I’m obviously not a chef but we’ve had wonderful support from Kevin Hopgood helping us with our recipe development and the Hopgood’s & Co staff have taken a liking to our bubble tea, Gail works at Hopgood’s too, so she often shuffles between the two kitchens with drinks for their kitchen staff.”
They have two difference base mixes for their fry-top ice cream, the first is vanilla and the second is chocolate, “it is a liquid product that is basically a sweet cream just like you would make a normal ice cream with, we pour a measured amount onto the grill and then add flavours and textures like chocolate brownies and Pic’s crunchy peanut butter.”
They have so many flavour combinations Jon tells me it often takes people longer to decide what they want than it does for him to make the tasty treat for them. “We simply pour the sweet cream on the fry-top add their selection of fruit and texture, and chop it on the fry-top while the liquid base freezes in front of the customer, then we roll it up and put it into the tub or bamboo boat, add whipped cream and sauce, and finish with a variety of toppings, very satisfying.”
Bubble Tea is another new product to Nelson, it is made using Black Pearl which is like black tapioca and is hand made in Taiwan, “we cook it fresh each day then serve it in different teas – green tea, black tea, melon tea, lemon tea, peach tea, Thai tea and others.
“It is quite traditional and very popular with Eastern cultures, it’s a really refreshing, hydrating drink and we sell out every day. It doesn’t have much sugar and is really popular with school kids so we pretty much sell out when school finishes each day.”
Since Jon opened Frozen Rolled Ice Cream in September last year with a blessing from five Buddhist monks who traveled from Christchurch the business has gone from strength to strength, “we make a custom ice cream product, we’re not competing with other companies, we’re not fast food because we are slow (it takes about two minutes to make an ice cream) but we can pre-make them if you phone in an order and we keep them frozen ready for you to collect.
Jon says people actually create their own ice cream and some blends are pretty crazy “like Matcha cream, Pics Peanut Butter, boysenberry jelly, chocolate, banana and fruit sauce all in one frozen rolled ice cream and I’m just the luddite who puts it on the cook top.”
I’m not sure about being a luddite but Jon is certainly working very hard creating beautiful treats that will put a smile on any face, not just kids.
Published in the Nelson Mail 13.03.19