Soft serve is fluid. It is instantaneous, and there is a certain sense of freedom behind it.
That is simply not the case when you are making scoopable, hard ice cream. You have to plan it out three days in advance and then wait a whole other day to properly freeze it and be able to taste it. This is why I decided to open up a chef-driven soft serve restaurant in Portland, Oregon, called Wiz Bang Bar
Chef-driven soft serve is what happens when you take that nostalgia of having soft serve growing up, but then put a lot of care into it as an adult. As the owner and founder of Salt & Straw Ice Cream, I've spent the last five years of my life making ice cream. While soft serve and scoopable ice cream are similar, they are still very different.
We are in the corner of a brand new food hall in Portland called Pine Street Market, with eight other chefs in the building, so we are having the kitchen be up front and center in our soft serve bar. Think of a sushi bar but retrofitted for soft serve and toppings, all of which are baked up by our pastry chef every day.
I half-grew up in Montana. We had a Tastee-Freez in our neighborhood and it was the cool place to hang out at after school. When you were a teenager, you would ride your bike down there—after stealing 50 cents from your parent's wallet—and have hand-dipped cones dipped in their red cherry magic shell. It probably tasted like food coloring but I just loved it—it made me smile, and there were never any worries around it.
When opening up Wiz Bang, I wanted our recipes to compete with some of that nostalgia. We are making our own Oreos on site, for example. I'll never forget the day when a little kid came up to us while we were making it and he just pointed to us and said, "You can make your own Oreos?"
We have our own take on the Choco Taco, too—except ours is made with single-origin chocolate from Woodblock Chocolate. We are treating the restaurant as an incubation center of sorts. We will be playing with sundaes and other fun ways of eating ice cream, and we'll find ways to pair interesting ingredients with these things.
After three-and-a-half years of failed recipes—mostly because we wanted to keep it all-natural—we also ended up making our very own version of that Tasty-Freez cherry dip magic shell I grew up on, but ours is made with real Oregon black raspberries. It's this beautiful, dark, magenta color, and since Oregon dark raspberries are really dense in flavor, it has a real jammy flavor that goes great with the cream.
I wanted the texture of our soft serve to be like velvet, so it has between 7 and 10 percent butterfat, while most places that serve soft serve usually keep their butterfat content at 2 to 3 percent. Because of our higher fat content, our ice cream has a really in-your-face effect when you eat it—even our vanilla flavor. It is very luxurious.
We've been completely blown away by the response. It is all meant to be fun. It's only going to get more fun from here, since we do have a full liquor license. Hello, negroni soft serve! People love soft serve and it is fun to see people instantly break out into a smile as soon as they have it. Not many things have the power to make you do that.
As told to Javier Cabral
Tyler Malek is the founder of Salt & Straw. For more info on their chef-driven ice cream, visit their website.