Oakland Magazine – Nov. 07
MARY CANALES KNOWS THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. Just a year after leaving a high profile job as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, her new shop, Ici, is raising the bar for gourmet ice cream, sorbet and sherbet in the Elmwood. It’s no wonder, with eclectic flavors like lemon and gingersnap, handmade cones and ice cream sandwiches and hand-dipped vanilla and chicory bonbons.
Where do you get the ideas for your flavors?
First of all, I definitely follow the seasons, so what’s growing is really what inspires me. I mean, literally, I have to park a little bit away from the shop, and I’m always aware of what’s growing in people’s yards—their gardens. You know, there are apples ripening now and the fennel seeds, the pollen on the ends—you can’t help but notice, it’s all around you. Not that I’m going to go into people’s yards, but you see what’s growing, what’s seasonal.
Apples? Fennel? Those seem like awfully healthy ingredients for ice cream. Don’t tell me you use basil too.
As a matter of fact, we made basil ice cream here not long ago … really just inspired because at the farmers market there were these huge bunches of basil next to the peaches I was buying. I thought it might be interesting, and it does go with the fruit flavors. You can have a scoop of basil and a scoop of plum and it’s really good.
You must have some colorful dreams at night.
I remember as a kid, dreaming about blueberry pancakes and having to have them or wanting to learn how to make them. Before Christmas, I did dream that I wanted to make a frozen bûche de Noël. It’s crazy, but I figured out how to make them in my dream, and I made them all night. I woke up exhausted.
Does your staff have input into your flavors?
As we’re working we’re constantly coming up with things. I believe all the ideas don’t come from one person. I thrive in a collaborative kitchen like I had in Chez Panisse. When I left Chez Panisse I thought I would leave that, but I was so blown away the first week or two here, we already had it again. We’re all dreaming about ice cream, I guess.
You’re husband, Paul, is the chef at Oliveto. How do you juggle your schedules and raise a family?
It’s a crazy chef’s life or artist’s life, and I do tell people who are coming into the business: This isn’t 9 to 5 Monday though Friday. It never will be. My husband and I have it structured that we spend as much time as we can with the kids, so we have our days off kind of staggered. But I’ve always been a pastry-chef mom, so to them it’s normal. And we’re so happy doing what we’re doing, that’s the real payoff, I guess.
Is there any ingredient you’ve vowed never to put in ice cream?
It’s kind of hard to say, but I don’t really like garlic ice cream. Even though you can imagine garlic in cream in pasta or something like that, it just doesn’t really speak to me. I had wasabi ice cream in New York once. It was interesting, but it doesn’t really work for me. It’s kind of the nouvelle-cuisine, do-it-just-because-you-can sort of thing. But I guess I’m a little more rooted in tradition. At the end of the day, I just want to make something that’s delicious. – Ginny Prior
Ici is open daily at 2948 College Ave., Berkeley, (510) 665-6054.