“Ice-cream is serious,” says New York chef, Sam Mason.
He should know. Ever since rising to prominence as the original pastry chef at WD-50, a (now-closed) molecular-gastronomy player in Manhattan, NYC, that even Noma’s René Redzepi once deemed “the place to have your preconceptions challenged”, Mason has earned an international reputation as a flavour visionary.
Mason was out one night with friend Mohan Kumar, a real-estate financier, when Kumar began telling him about his wife Holiday’s weird pregnancy cravings: fried chicken and savoury ice-cream. So Mason made her some. Holiday loved it so much she suggested the pair open a shop.
“Opening an ice-cream shop just seemed like a natural progression in my life,” says Mason. With Kumar on board as business partner, and Holiday on the brand’s media, the trio opened OddFellows ice-creamery in Williamsburg in 2013. Word spread quickly. “People found out Sam Mason had an ice-cream shop,” says Kumar, “and everyone wanted to come try it.”
They keep coming. Three years on it’s not uncommon for the Williamsburg location to run out of ice-cream altogether, especially on a hot day. OddFellows has also opened a little shop in the East Village, and has plans to expand – possibly even to Australia. “If people really want us to come there,” says Kumar.
The team’s vision is simple: have fun. How the pair decided on a business name illustrates their casual approach. “It took us 10 minutes to agree on ‘carnival’, ‘weird’ and then ‘odd’, says Kumar. ‘Those were things we typed into a Google search. ‘Odd fellows’ came up, and we thought, ‘That fits!’”
Where it gets more complex is with the taste. OddFellows has so far created more than 200 original flavours (all from locally sourced ingredients), and some of its eclectic combinations have become famous, such as its early offerings of foie gras and peanut butter; a shiso-granola and coconut dulce de leche; and the current manchego (a Spanish cheese) and pineapple. “[I’ve] always thought outside the box,” says Mason. “I guess it translates to frozen dessert.”
Now OddFellows has embarked on its first international collaboration, working with Connoisseur on The Brooklyn Collection, designing four flavours in honour of iconic Brooklyn neighbourhoods: Williamsburg, Flatbush, Bed-Stuy and Coney Island.
Mason says his priority was making sure the flavours were approachable for those not familiar with the areas, as if to make an introduction by taste. “It had to be something people were going to be like, ‘Oh, that sounds delicious’,” he says. Mason landed on four new flavours: peanut butter and pretzel with sweet cream to represent the laid-back Bed-Stuy; golden syrup with butter swirl and corn nuts for the nostalgia of Coney Island; matcha green tea and a white chocolate for modern Williamsburg; and chocolate brownie with chocolate custard in honour of Flatbush, where the famous Blackout chocolate cake originated.
The next challenge was translating the recipes to a larger scale, thousands of kilometres away. Mason and Kumar first tested the flavours on-site. Connoisseur then recreated them in Australia, and flew the factory samples over on dry ice to New York for OddFellows to approve. “It’s completely different to anything we’ve done,” says Kumar. “It’s really, really cool to see how that came about.”
The pair is excited about expanding OddFellows’ reach. “Being a business owner in food is a creative endeavour,” says Kumar. “You’re trying to always find ways to appeal to different customers while staying true to yourself.”
Mason agrees. “It’s the third year and I’m still exited about making ice-cream,” he says. “Which seems a little strange to me – it’s such a singular product. But it’s diverse enough to keep me excited.”
The next challenge? Nailing that fried-chicken ice-cream for Holiday, says Mason: “I’ll work on it!”
This article presented in partnership with Connoisseur Gourmet Ice-Cream.