Mélanie Chaix studied to be a pastry chef at one of the cooking schools in France run by Alain Ducasse (the first chef to have three restaurants awarded with three Michelin stars at the same time). So when she decided to move to Australia two years ago and make vegan ice-cream in Sydney, she had to undo a lot of learning.
“In pastry school, you learn ice-cream is made with a milk and egg base,” Chaix says. “The most difficult part is to re-learn everything ... We made a lot of tests; we had a lot of fails.”
Coconut milk was an obvious first choice for the base, but the taste of coconut dominated every flavour combination. Almond milk was also no good because of an extra step of having to strain it and it not being smooth enough. She finally settled on cashews.
“You just have to soak the raw cashews, add water and salt and blend it. It mixes easily and makes a creamy texture,” she says.
The result is a texture and taste that is convincingly ice-cream-like and delicious. Chaix says because of the base (coconut milk and cashew milk), she doesn’t need to add in as much sugar as you might with ice-cream. And, as well as being being plant-based, Pepita’s ice-creams and sorbets are gluten free.
It took Chaix and her team eight months to perfect the recipe and now her ice-cream company Pepita’s offers seven or so flavours, including hazelnut and coconut, plus refreshing sorbets such as raspberry-mango, and lime, cucumber and mint.
The sorbets are mostly fruit based, with the exception of an incredibly creamy chocolate. “You can’t tell it’s a sorbet,” she says. “We make a kind of ganache with water and sugar syrup, poured over a really nice chocolate. Then you blend everything and incorporate some air to make it creamy.”
The ice-creams and sorbets are sold out of a custom-fitted mint-green Volkswagen kombi with a pop top. It’s based in the Northern Beaches and drives around Curl Curl, Dee Why, Manly and Freshwater. One of the reasons for the van is that the cost of producing good quality, cashew-based ice-cream is too high for Pepita’s to have a permanent store or to wholesale to others. But Chaix refuses to compromise the ingredients for a better profit margin.
“I don’t want anyone to eat anything I wouldn’t eat,” she says. “We try to reduce the sugar, use the best quality ingredients we can afford. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat a scoop a day."
Pepita’s is part of a growing cohort of vegan ice-cream makers in Sydney. There’s Chacha’s in Bondi, which also does cashew-based ice-creams (the owners are currently looking for a new premises, and a new store is slated to open late July); The Blob, which does vegan and gluten-free soft serve (the pop-up is currently on “winter hibernation”); and Over the Moo, which serves coconut-milk-based vegan ice-cream from a Mr Whippy-style truck.
74 Pitt Road, North Curl Curl
0414 718 754
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This article first appeared on Broadsheet on July 19, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.