Stephen Hassinger, chef de cuisine at the Inn at Hunt Phelan, was strolling around the downtown Memphis Farmers Market with his wife Kathleen Hall, when they began to crave something that would make the heat more bearable. Inspired by the fresh produce, they decided to make homemade ice cream to sell at the market. Thus was born De La Creme.
"It all started on the Fourth of July, with a White Mountain Ice Cream Freezer, a bunch of rock salt, ice, and lots of hot coffee because my wife and I were standing in the restaurant's freezer, making ice cream for our first weekend at the market," Hassinger remembers. But the couple soon discovered that the old-fashioned ice-cream maker wasn't up to the task.
"This thing was a wooden bucket with an engine of a half horse power that's moving the scraper blade," Hassinger says. "After wearing out three of those, we moved on to a better ice-cream maker, which looks more like a front-loading washing machine."
With the kinks worked out and with the help of their two kids, who are responsible for taste-testing and quality control, production is now running full-force. Best-sellers include honey vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and pecan praline. A couple of weeks ago, the couple offered its first sorbets: blueberry, blackberry, ginger/peach, and lemongrass/wild blackberry. Most of the ice-cream and sorbet flavors are based on what's available at the Farmers Market.
"We typically buy what looks good to us that day, eat some of it, and make ice cream from the rest," Hassinger says.
The ice cream costs $4 to $5 for a 12-ounce container. However, biodegradable packaging is an important concern. Hassinger and his wife will soon be using a smaller, eco-friendly container. When available, they try to use organic ingredients, inclucing whole milk from Rock Springs Dairy in Wildersville, Tennessee, about 100 miles east of Memphis.
"Of course, the ingredients we use have a big impact on how our ice cream tastes," Hassinger says. "But another reason why homemade ice cream tastes so much better than even the premium ice cream at the store is because it's made a few days before it's sold. It doesn't have to be shipped halfway across the country, and it's kept at a constant temperature, which affects taste and consistency."
De La Creme ice cream is available at the Memphis Farmers Market.
Two of Hassinger's co-workers from Hunt Phelan are also selling their wares at the Farmers Market. Pastry chef Sherri McKelvie and sous chef Russell Casey have recently teamed up to create La Cucina, which sells European-style breads and freshly made mozzarella. McKelvie, who once ran her own wholesale bakery, La Morinda, finally gave in to the market's plea for artisan bread.
"I don't think I would ever want to have my own full-blown bakery again, even though I still love baking bread," McKelvie says. "This is really the best of both worlds. I can bake some bread once a week, and I can meet the people who buy it."
At the market, McKelvie sells a honey whole-wheat loaf with sunflowers, rosemary olive oil and jalapeno cheddar breads, baguettes, and tomato Parmesan focaccias. The breads cost from $3 to $5 each. Casey's mozzarella sells for $5 for five to six ounces.
La Cucina products are available at the Memphis Farmers Market.
On August 7th, several downtown restaurants will be participating in the "Moveable Feast," which will feature produce from area farmers. For this progressive dinner, chefs from Felicia Suzanne's, Grill 83, McEwen's on Monroe, and
Stella will prepare dishes using four main ingredients: Bonnie Blue Farm's goat cheese, Mississippi striped bass, local suckling pig, and Delta pecans. Wines will be provided by Grateful Palate Imports.
Cost for the dinner is $95 per person, all-inclusive. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., with a seating for 40 at each restaurant. Reservations are required.
A Moveable Feast, August 7th, 7 p.m. For reservations, call Felicia Suzanne's at 523-0877.
The Memphis Farmers Market, located at the Central Station Pavillion at Front Street and G.E. Patterson, will be open every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October 27th.