When Canberra’s own artisan ice cream brand, Frugii, won RiotACT’s Best of Canberra ice cream taste off earlier this month, I knew I had to meet the man behind the most delicious ice cream in the capital, John Marshall.
I meet John at his home in O’Malley, which has a basement commercial kitchen for making ice creams, cakes and other desserts. Today, he’s working on a pistachio puree and cherry essence for a pistachio and cherry choux pastry treat for the Frugii Dessert Laboratory on Lonsdale Street, which opened for business earlier this month.
John and his wife Ed planned to open the store in January to take advantage of Canberra’s quietest time of year, but things haven’t gone exactly to plan.
“We wanted to ease into things, make a few hundred dollars a day and have time to learn how to use the coffee machine and the other equipment,” John says.
“We were used to people queuing for our ice cream at EPIC at 7.30am on a Saturday morning in the middle of winter, so we expected to be busy, but this was something else. This is deliveries of 120 cakes selling out in fifteen minutes and running out of every single ice cream flavour before the end of each day.”
Since opening, John has invested in more equipment, including a bigger mixer, a new refrigerator and an additional 40 ice cream tubs, to keep up with demand. He makes all of the ice cream from his basement kitchen at home, and even though he says it’s much more physically demanding than his previous job in IT (which he left to open the Frugii Dessert Laboratory), it’s clear that he’s enjoying almost every minute.
He explains that he’s been interested in food and cooking since he was a child, but his love affair with ice cream began fifteen years ago when he bought a classic two-litre ice cream machine from the old Italian deli in Narrabundah.
“I took it home and promptly put it away under the kitchen sink until my wife told me I needed to either use it or throw it out. So I used it, and I made a raspberry sorbet, and it was really good. From then on I’ve just wanted to make better and better and better ice cream.”
He started out taking his ice cream to local restaurants to taste test and orders slowly rolled in. Frugii ice cream became a sort of Canberra cult classic and a regular fixture at local markets (its products are also stocked at select IGA stores in the ACT).
John has completed professional gelato courses but says that when it comes to creating flavours, he’s mostly self taugt. The commercial courses teach students how to make ice cream using pre-made bases, which he does not do. When he first started experimenting with flavours, he even set up his own chemistry lab.
“I started off by buying a couple of packets of pre-mix and analyzing their PH, sugar levels and all that. I bought some kits and looked at the percentages of the milk powders, and from there I started reading books on professional ice cream making and reading up on different types of sugar and what they do. Sugar’s not just for sweetening, it’s really there for its anti-freezing properties.”
Frugii is in the Ori Building on Lonsdale Street and open from Wednesday to Sunday.