Bennett's Ice Cream January 12, 2014 BACK TO MARKET BUZZ

Scott Bennett, Bennett's Ice Cream, stall # 548 and The Refresher, stall #622


Scott Bennett is an artisan ice cream maker whose family history at the Market dates back to 1946.  Scott’s unyielding focus on superb ice cream flavors has won him local and national competitions and a deserved reputation for being “The Ice Cream Man.”  Many of his flavors are unique, like his award winning Cabernet Sauvignon sorbet.   A graduate of UC Davis’ ice cream manufacturing program, he says his deeply learned lessons on running a business at the Market started with his Uncle Chuck who originally owned Bennett’s Ice Cream.  Scott is married to wife Nancy and they have a teenaged son and daughter.

“I used to come and work at my Uncle Chuck’s ice cream store here at the Market.  I was a little kid but I loved working with him.  I learned, I guess by osmosis, what it takes to run a successful food business.  He’d always say, ‘Good stuff in, good stuff out,’ and I’ve never forgotten that.

Working with him, I think I knew being in the ice cream business was something I wanted to do too, but getting here wasn’t exactly a straight line.  We moved to Utah for a while and I was not an easy kid.  During high school in Utah, I wound up working at an Italian restaurant.  I did everything, including washing dishes and floors, just to make some money to get me out of the house.  I loved being at the restaurant.  I pitched in to work on whatever they asked me to do.  Then one day, they asked me to do some cooking and that was all she wrote.  I was hooked.

Still, after high school, I knocked around a lot, was sort of aimless, not knowing where I was actually going.  Between stints working for my Uncle Chuck at the Market, I sold toner, and later worked for caterers who had me creating meals in a truck without any instruction or advice.  They’d hand me a piece of paper with the food they were supplying for the job and told me to somehow put it altogether when I got to the party.  I’m not sure how I knew to do the work, I just did.  It was in my blood, I guess. 

Then Uncle Chuck died and I inherited the ice cream store.  That was a wake up call.  I knew I wanted to do this and persuaded the Market’s owners to give me a chance.  They did and I settled down and set myself straight. 

I knew that if I wanted to really be successful at ice cream making, I would need to know even more than Uncle Chuck did…so I got myself into the ice cream manufacturing program at UC Davis.  I learned all about the chemistry of making good ice cream.”

We asked Scott to describe how he develops an ice cream flavor:

'"One of our most popular flavors is Fancy Nancy, named after my wife.  When she and I were first dating, I knew that her favorite ice cream concoction was to take Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and then chop up bits of banana and eat it like that.  One Valentine's Day, I took some coffee ice cream, melted it down, chopped up some bananas and made it into the shape of a heart.  I think maybe that's why she married me.  

After we were married, she kept adding to that flavor. She took it a step further and added caramel sprinkles. The kids always called that ice cream  ‘Mommy’s thing.’  Then one night, after closing, I was in the store with the kids and my son said he wanted ‘Mommy’s sundae.’  And I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll make some.’

I’d never tasted it.  So I made some and it was truly amazing and I told them, ‘This is really, really good.’  So then my daughter said  ‘You should make this ice cream for Mommy.’  And then my son said, ‘And you should call it Fancy Nancy.’   Well, they got me to thinking about how I might really be able to do this and sell the flavor in the store.

It took me about a week of tinkering to get the flavors to come out so that when you eat the ice cream, you get the right sensation.  What had to happen is that the coffee flavor had to come first.  Then the caramel comes in as a heavy sweet contrast, because my coffee flavor is almost bitter, like a jolt of strong coffee should be.  After the coffee, you want the caramel flavor to come along the tongue, and then finally comes a banana bit which has been broken down into a syrup that forms in a pocket and then remaining banana bit floats in that pocket. 

It’s a painstaking process, and it isn’t just how it tastes, it’s also has to look right visually.  It has to have the right swirl in it as it’s being scooped, so again the order of the flavors plays a role here.  It’s important that the caramel swirl comes out just right. To get that effect, first, as the coffee ice cream comes out of the machine, I have to quickly get the banana bits swirled in immediately and completely so they have full coverage throughout the ice cream.  Then, at that point, I put the caramel on top and very, very slowly swirl it in.  That’s why when it’s comes out in that order, you get the right taste, coffee ice cream, then banana and then the last taste on the tongue is the caramel.  That’s exactly what happens when you eat Fancy Nancy.  It’s a kick when it all comes together and works just right.  That’s what makes it all worthwhile."