An Afternoon with Ice Cream Scientists, Guilab
Working underneath the tutelage of Jamie Oliver (tutelage sounds so appropriate when talking about Jamie Oliver) is certainly something to write home about, but easily the coolest thing about Diego Guillén (besides a beard of epic proportions) is his current title: Ice Cream Scientist. Ok, so I completely made that job title up, I’m not sure that’s what his business card reads but it should.
It’s a Friday afternoon and I find myself in the San Juan Tennis Club. An ominous looking building which from the outside looks like a Soviet construction but in the inside a thing Wes Anderson dreams of making over. It is the temporary laboratory of Diego Guillén and the 8 chefs that make up the Guilab Laboratorio de Helados team. I really had no idea what to expect, and after excusing myself to the restroom while the cooking equipment was being set up I was surprised to come back to Diego suiting himself up in black surgical gloves, a white lab coat and protective eyewear and little beakers filled with dulce de leche, and hazelnuts. This was serious business.
Originally from Cordoba, Guillén never anticipated working in Buenos Aires. His first big move was to New York City where he worked as a Junior Chef at the Hyatt Hotel before heading across the pond to work with the aforementioned Oliver. He was inspired to learn about molecular cooking by chefs like London-based Heston Blumenthal, and came back to Buenos Aires with dreams of creating a full sensory food experience in his new adopted city.
“I was brought back to Buenos Aires for work, but wanted to get out of hospitality and be the owner of my work,” Guillén explained, “Molecular cooking was already popular in Europe, but not many chefs were exploring it in Buenos Aires. We were the first company in Argentina to use nitrogen to make ice cream, now there is one other business but it’s still a really new concept here.”
Guilab has been in business for three years, and has resisted the temptation to open its own brick and mortar. Instead they take a more 21st century approach, using social media to communicate what food fairs they will participate in while holding out for new city legislation that should usher in a wave of food trucks in the coming year (fingers crossed). I imagine something similar to the Los Angeles based Kogi taco truck, who created a hysteric following of taco lovers exclusively through twitter, once the law is passed.
Although we were going to try a simple (I use that word lightly) dulce de leche ice cream, Guilab prides themselves on their investigative helado skills. They’ve been hired to create ice creams for everything from a Sweet 15 (Oreo Ice Cream), to a wedding (the groom wanted to replicate his grandmothers arroz con leche) and a Corona corporate event (Corona with lime sorbet). This isn’t as easy as it might sound, as the freezing nitrogen temperatures require the structure of their ice cream recipes to be modified to the new method. The team also only utilizes natural ingredients – no flavor enhancers or food coloring – which makes the job that much harder, and the quality that much greater.
“We want people to share new experiences through food. Ice cream is one of those things that people think they have figured out. It’s just as important as other local dishes. We want to break into that tradition and create something different,” Guillén explained as he suited up in black gloves, “Not only is our ice cream different, the whole process is different. It’s a full sensory experience.”
And it was. He flipped the stand mixer on and began combining ingredients, a thick mixture of two different dulce de leches and liquid nitrogen. A foggy cloud began to roll out of the bowl; the mixer started shaking noisily as the liquid quickly turned solid. Wow was the only word I could muster up, which apparently is how everyone reacts.
“My favorite part is watching people’s reactions. There are usually a lot of questions, like, is this going to kill me? Is it safe?” Guillén told me as the mixer continued to loudly crunch against the table, “I can tell almost immediately if they like or not, something lights up in the eyes. Kids are the best, if you want to know if an ice cream turned out well ask a kid, because they won’t lie. We had one kid throw away an ice cream while staring directly at us, we offered him another one that he liked and immediately changed his mood.”
Fresh isn’t a word I would ever think to use to describe an ice cream, but that’s exactly how this ice cream tasted. The caramel colored concoction was creamy with that distinctive dulce de leche flavor that remained on my tongue for at least a half hour. You have 8 minutes to eat it before it starts melting everywhere. I was almost offended by the assumption that it would take me half that time to eat the entire cone and hint at wanting more.
Until their traveling food truck is allowed to roam the streets of Buenos Aires, we’ll just have to settle for their regular participation in food fairs. This month you can catch them at the following: Le Marché on September 19th and 20th at the French Embassy, Bocas Abiertas in San Isidro September 24th through the 26th and Picruba in La Plata Sept 25th through the 27th. And stay tuned for Guilab ice cream on wheels, hopefully traveling to a neighborhood near you.